Do you have large, distended veins in your legs or feet? Do your lower legs ache or swell if you’re on your feet for any length of time? For some people, varicose veins are no more than a cosmetic nuisance. For others, the condition can become increasingly unsightly, uncomfortable and downright painful.
Varicose veins get their name from their ropy, twisted appearance. The word varicose comes from the Latin varix, meaning twisted. Most commonly found behind the knees or on the back of the calves, they can make their presence known anywhere from the groin to the feet, as blood backs up, pools and causes veins to enlarge.
“Blood in our veins flows feet to heart,” explained Wes Arlein, MD, vascular surgeon and endovascular specialist on the medical staff at Valley Medical Center. “Blood can flow heart to feet, due to damage to wisp-like, one-way valves in the veins. These valves can be damaged by childbirth, clots or just be genetically faulty.”
There is a natural progression to varicose veins, and they usually worsen over time. They can become a serious problem, as increased pressure may result in ulceration, bleeding or blood clots.
Treatment for varicose veins generally begins with self-management. Exercising, losing excess weight, elevating the legs and avoiding standing for prolonged periods of time can help ease discomfort. Wearing properly fitted compression stockings to apply steady pressure to the legs throughout the day may also help.
If self-management is not effective and varicose veins impact your ability to enjoy life, relief is now available with laser surgery. In the past, you may have heard of people with varicose veins having their “veins stripped.” This procedure, while still performed, is increasingly uncommon. Varicose veins can now be quickly and safely treated with laser intervention. The procedure is minimally invasive—there is minimal or no scarring, depending on the treatment. It is performed on an outpatient basis with local anesthetic and sedation. The whole process takes about an hour.
Before the procedure, your doctor will examine your legs and then perform an ultrasound to identify the source vein.
“With laser intervention, we treat the source of the problem, not the resulting symptoms,” Dr. Arlein said. “The laser melts away the source vein. It’s like turning off the hose. When you shut off the nozzle, pressure in the hose gradually decreases until it’s empty.”
Following laser therapy, most patients experience pain improvement within a week. Visually, veins disappear in just two to three months.
Wes Arlein, MD is board certified in vascular surgery. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (425) 656-5568.
Risk Factors with varicose veins:
• family history – if our parents or grandparents had them;
• obesity – excess weight means our veins must work harder to return blood to the heart;
• aging – the valves in our veins naturally weaken as we get older.
• aching legs, or a feeling of heaviness that worsens when you stand or sit for prolonged periods;
• itching around the veins of the legs;
• swelling of the ankles;
• skin color changes in the lower leg or ankle (skin may turn brown as pigment leaches from the vein);
• unsightly, bulging leg veins that may range in color from blue to dark purple.
Warning Signs – seek help immediately:
• skin ulcers near the ankle;
• sudden leg swelling, with or without pain, redness or fever.