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Are you concerned that you might have varicose veins? Varicose veins are common, affecting about 23 percent of adults in the U.S., impacting women twice as often as men. Varicose vein symptoms include the appearance of swollen, twisted veins visible through the skin of the legs and feet, and occasionally on other parts of the body. For some people, the cosmetic aspect is the primary concern, but others experience pain and discomfort from their varicose veins. So, what causes varicose veins? And what, exactly, are they?

Just as they appear, varicose veins are twisted, enlarged veins. Their gnarled appearance is the result of blood pooling inside the veins that are weak or damaged. Within the circulatory system, arteries transport the blood from the heart to the rest of the body, and it’s the veins’ job to return that blood to the heart. In the legs, veins must work against gravity to do this, and muscle contractions in the legs work with the valves in the veins to keep the blood flowing in the right direction. In veins with weak or damaged valves, this isn’t done effectively, and the blood can flow backward, which is what creates the pooling in the veins that causes them to stretch and twist.

Aside from cosmetic problems, some varicose veins symptoms can be extremely troublesome. The legs may feel achy or heavy, there may be burning, throbbing, muscle cramping, and swelling in the lower legs, and the pain may get worse when the person has been standing or sitting for a long time. The skin may change color around a varicose vein, and it may also itch. These symptoms are harmless, but more advanced varicose veins stages can involve serious problems like blood clots, skin ulcers, and bleeding. If your veins are not twisted and ropy but rather smaller and web-like, they are probably spider veins. Spider veins are like varicose veins, but they’re smaller, closer to the surface of the skin, and don’t typically hurt. If they do hurt, they may be signs of a deeper problem of venous insufficiency or varicose veins.

There are several factors that can put you at a higher risk for varicose veins.

  • Your gender plays a role, as women are more likely than men to develop this condition. Hormonal fluctuation can be a factor, because the shifts in hormones before a menstrual period, during pregnancy, or in menopause can relax vein walls. Hormonal treatments like birth control pills can also increase the risk of varicose veins. What’s more, the blood volume in the body increases during pregnancy, enlarging the veins in the legs, and this can often lead to varicose veins.
  • Age is also a factor. As we get older there is natural wear and tear on the valves in our veins. Sometimes, that erosion can impede the valves’ function, allowing blood to flow backward and collect in the veins.
  • Your family history matters. If your mother or grandmother had varicose veins, you are likely to have them as well. A family history of vein problems is a risk factor.
  • Being overweight raises your chances of varicose veins. Excess weight, particularly obesity, puts additional pressure on the veins.
  • Inactivity can increase your risk of varicose veins. A sedentary lifestyle is bad for your veins, but so is a lifestyle in which you’re always on your feet. Keep moving to help your blood flow the way it’s meant to flow.

There are also steps you can take to prevent varicose veins. Improving your muscle tone and blood flow is one proactive measure to take to reduce your risk. Additionally, the same things that help alleviate discomfort caused by varicose veins can help prevent them. These include:

  • Avoiding wearing tight hosiery or high-heeled shoes.
  • Moving regularly, and not sitting or standing in one position for very long.
  • Eating a healthful diet that’s high in fiber and low in salt.
  • Getting regular exercise.
  • Keep your legs elevated when sitting or lying down.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.

For varicose veins, treatment is not always necessary. However, if they’re causing you discomfort, it’s important that you see a doctor that knows how to treat varicose veins. Your doctor may recommend that you wear compression stockings or hosiery, designed to encourage upward blood flow. He or she may also suggest over-the-counter pain relievers, like ibuprofen and aspirin to alleviate pain and reduce swelling. However, if the problem is more serious, there are several minimally invasive treatment options available. Sometimes laser treatment is used to collapse, close, and cauterize the varicose vein so that blood can be rerouted into a healthier vessel. Another option is endovenous thermal ablation, in which a catheter is inserted into the affected vein and as it’s withdrawn, radiofrequency energy is used to seal the vein shut. Ambulatory phlebectomy is a minimally invasive tactic for addressing varicose veins. In this surgical procedure, under local anesthesia, the damaged portion of the vein is removed via incisions too small to require stitches. The doctor might opt for sclerotherapy, injecting a chemical into the vein to cause it to close, or non-thermal vein ablation, which uses glue or medication rather than heat to close the damaged vein.

If you’d like to determine which treatment is the right one for you, the first step is scheduling a consultation with a qualified doctor like the doctors at Premier Vein & Vascular Center. Our experienced and skilled team specializes in treating vein disease, not just to improve your comfort level but also to help you find long-term positive results. At our two clinics in the Houston and Cypress area, our board-certified doctors use the latest advances in vascular treatment to address the underlying cause of your symptoms. Contact us through our website or call 832-321-5355 to schedule a free vein screening and consultation.