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Don’t Suffer in Vein

Varicose and spider veins can be treated with painless, minimally invasive procedures, according to Dr. Jenny Cho of The University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City

Don't suffer in veinAs many as 1 in 4 adults have varicose veins: large, dark blue, swollen or gnarled blood vessels visible through the skin. Besides pain, varicose veins can cause itching, fullness, swelling, inflammation, leg ulcers or restless legs – all of which can be more severe at the end of the day.

So, what causes them?

“Think of your veins and arteries as expressways or rivers. When there is a traffic jam or road construction, or when a dam breaks, trouble ensues,” says Jenny Cho, MD, vascular surgeon at The University of Kansas Health System. “The valves that move blood to the heart don’t close properly and start to leak. That causes blood to pool in the legs and the veins to bulge.”

Spider veins, another common vascular problem, are small, thin clusters of red, blue or purple veins that lie close to the skin’s surface. They are found in thighs, calves and ankles, but also can be on the face from sun exposure and often appear as:

  • A spider shape with a group of veins radiating from a dark central point
  • Tiny branch-like shapes
  • Thin separate lines

Pain can range from dull and throbbing to burning sensations. But whether varicose veins or spider veins, discomfort may not be related to the size of the blood vessel.

“Small spider veins can be just as painful or more so,” she says. “The same rule applies to varicose veins.”

Know the myths

Varicose and spider veins are commonly associated with women, but to say they are strictly a women’s issue is a myth, according to Dr. Cho.

“Men and teens get them, too,” she says. “They are not necessarily a sign of aging.”

Other common misconceptions include:

  • They are strictly a cosmetic problem. Wrong, they could lead to dangerous blood clots.
  • They can be caused by running. Actually, the reverse is true. Exercise is good for your veins.
  • They are always visible. No, they also can occur deep in the body.
  • Recovery from treatment is difficult. Not so. Innovative procedures have led to quicker, easier recovery times.

Lifestyle factors and common causes

Spider veins and varicose veins share several common causes.

  • Age
  • Heredity
  • Hormonal changes
  • Weight gain
  • Prolonged sitting/standing

“We still don’t completely know the cause of spider veins,” Dr. Cho says. “They may be caused by certain medications. Other factors that increase the likelihood of varicose veins are leg injury, heavy lifting and lack of exercise.”

Treatment options have evolved

The good news is vascular conditions are highly treatable and vascular treatments have gotten better. Several minimally invasive outpatient procedures have replaced complex surgical therapy known as ligation and stripping:

  • Microphlebectomy removes protruding varicose vein clusters by making tiny incisions that heal without scars and are closed with tape.

  • Sclerotherapy injects a chemical solution into the affected vein. The solution irritates the lining of the vessel causing it to swell and stick together, and the blood to clot. Over a period of weeks, the vessel turns into scar tissue and eventually fades. A single blood vessel may have to be injected more than once; however, multiple vessels can be injected during a treatment session.

  • “After several treatments, most patients can expect an 80-90% improvement,” Dr. Cho says.

  • Endovenous radiofrequency ablation uses ultrasound energy to heat to the vein wall, causing it to shrink and the vein to seal closed. Once the diseased vein is closed, blood will reroute itself to other healthy veins. This technique requires minimal sedation with local anesthesia and results in less pain and bruising. Patients typically go back to work the next day.

When to see a doctor

Dr. Cho advises her patients to see a doctor if their varicose or spider veins become swollen or warm to the touch.

Although usually not serious, varicose veins or spider veins can signal a blockage in deeper veins, creating a dangerous blood clot condition called deep vein thrombosis.

“Thrombosis requires evaluation and possible treatment,” Dr. Cho says.

Even if your condition isn’t serious, you may want to consider treatment if the appearance bothers you.