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Varicose Veins FAQs

What is the difference between arteries and veins?

Arteries carry oxygenated blood from the heart to organs and the extremities. Veins carry oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart from all the organs in the body. Veins have one-way valves that open so blood can flow back to the heart for oxygenation, and close to prevent the blood from flowing backwards.

What the difference between a superficial vein and a deep vein?

A superficial vein is just under the skin and is there to drain blood from the skin. The blood travels from the superficial veins to the deep veins. It is the one-way valves in the deep veins that close to prevent the blood from flowing backwards when it is pushed toward the heart by the calf muscles.

What is Venous Reflux Disease?

The valves in healthy veins open and close to return blood back to the heart. However, when the valves are damaged or weakened, blood can flow backwards, pulled by gravity. When the valves no longer function to keep blood flowing to the heart, it is called Venous Reflux Disease. Then the blood pools in these superficial veins causing them to become swollen and enlarged, and dark blue or purple, and causing symptoms.  Venous Reflux Disease is a progressive disease that can become worse as time passes. It may also lead to chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are superficial veins in the legs that fill will blood that when the valves fail. Varicose veins are most often found on the thighs, around the knees and in the lower legs. Superficial veins are not surrounded by muscles so the blood in a superficial vein is not forced toward the heart, and in fact, most of the blood is diverted to the deep veins.

What causes varicose veins?

The cause of varicose veins is not known, but is associated with increased pressure in the veins that causes the veins to swell and damages the valves in the vein. The risk of developing varicose veins is increased when a family member has the condition. As we age the veins loose elasticity and the valves can stop working.

Who is at risk for venous reflux disease and varicose veins?

Varicose veins generally affect women twice as often as men, and are associated with the hormone estrogen. Pregnancy, obesity, prolonged standing (usually due to a job) and trauma can put extra pressure on the veins, causing them to weaken, making them prone to leakage. Age, heavy lifting and a family history contribute to the risk.

Do varicose veins go away on their own?

NO, they often get worse as time passes.

Why does it affect the legs?

The legs are farthest from the heart, and blood must flow against gravity to travel back to the heart for oxygenation. So when the valves in the superficial veins are damaged blood pools in the veins. It is important to understand that varicose veins are superficial veins and the pooling of blood when the valve is damaged, is an unpleasant cosmetic condition. It does not impair blood flow in the legs, because that is taken care of by the deep veins.

What are the symptoms of venous reflux disease and varicose veins?

The main symptom is the appearance of these blood-engorged veins.  Other signs include leg pain, aching and cramping, ache in the legs after prolonged standing, and feelings of fatigue and heaviness.

Other symptoms may include swollen feet and ankles, restless legs, muscle cramps at night, and dry, itchy skin over the affected veins or rashes, and possibly leg sores or ulcers. Hyperpigmentation of the skin around the ankles is evidence that a person has suffered with varicose veins for a long time.

How are varicose veins diagnosed?

A simple examination is all that is needed. An ultrasound may be used to assess value fruncton and look for blood clots.

Is treatment necessary?

NO, it is a cosmetic issue. Blood supply to the legs is not affected.

What is the treatment for varicose veins?

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Compression therapy
  • Minimally invasive treatments- Sclerotherapy and Endovenous Ablation
  • Surgery- vein stripping and vein excision

Minimally invasive treatments and surgical approaches are generally well tolerated, and cause little, if any, complications.

What is Sclerotherapy and how does it work?

A special solution is injected in to the vein. This solution irritates the vein walls causing them to collapse the vein, which then goes away on its own.

What is Radiofrequency Ablation?

Ultrasound-guided radiofrequency ablation involves the application of heat inside the vein, which seals off the affected veins. The vein walls collapse and close off the vein. A small incision is made to insert the catheter into the vein. The catheter delivers radiofrequency energy into the vein to heat it until the vein walls collapse. This is accomplished with a small incision under local anesthetic.

What are the surgical options?

  • For severe varicose veins, vein ligation and stripping stops blood flow to the saphenous vein and the blood supply is naturally rerouted to deeper veins. Two small incisions are made and a tiny flexible wire is inserted into the vein. It grabs the vein which is gently removed through the incision. Serious complications are rare. But, there may be some pain, bruising and bleeding.
  • Phlebectomy or vein excision is the procedure where the vein is gently removed without stitches or scarring.

What happens when a varicose vein is destroyed by treatment?

The superficial varicose veins always empty into the deeper veins. When the varicose vein is removed the deep veins take over. Blood flow to the legs is not interrupted.

If you or a loved one is suffering with varicose veins, schedule a consultation with the vein experts at South Valley Vascular Associates. We have three convenient locations in Visalia, Porterville or Hanford, where you can learn what to do about your varicose veins.

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