Varicose veins can cause big, unsightly ropes down your legs, but the problem can be more than just a cosmetic one. The veins can cause persistent pain, tiredness, cramping and restless legs.
Left untreated, serious varicose veins can cause blood clots in deep veins that can go directly to the lungs. They can also cause ulcers and bleeding, says Dr. Mateo Guanzon, a Munster-based cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon who has been treating vein diseases for more than 25 years.
The good news is, the veins can be treated by one of several simple, painless outpatient procedures, says Dr. Isam Haddadin, who runs the Vein Care Center in Highland.
Varicose veins are commonly found in the lower extremities, but can also be found in other parts of the body. Veins bring blood back to the heart through a series of valves that help blood throw through towards the heart. The varicose veins form when those valves don’t work correctly, Dr. Haddadin says.
“The blood has to flow against gravity, helped with the valves and muscular contraction of the calves and thigh,” he says. “When the valves don’t close tight, the blood tends to trickle down.”
The valve leaking can cause the veins to enlarge and bulge, which forms spider veins as well as the more serious varicose veins.
“The smallest veins become spider veins and can be pink, red or blue,” he says. “Varicose veins may bulge and become kinky or tortuous.”
The veins can occur in anyone, but are most commonly found in people who do heavy lifting or people who work long hours on their feet, like teachers or hairdressers.
Although men can get varicose veins, they are primarily found in women. Pregnancy also causes the veins, and often occur during the second and third trimesters, Dr. Haddadin says.
Dr. Guanzon says some varicose veins are internal, and cannot be seen from the skin’s surface.
Dr. Guanzon says compression stockings are a good way to treat beginning-stage spider or varicose veins. However, they have their drawbacks, he says.
“Some people find them difficult to put on and they are uncomfortable in the summer, but they’re a mainstay in the treatment of the disease,” Dr. Guanzon says.
Dr. Haddadin says walking also helps because it makes the calf muscles to pump more blood through the veins. Controlling your weight and keeping your feet elevated can also help, Dr. Haddadin says.
But if the spider veins and varicose veins need to be treated, the treatment process is easy and nearly painless, Dr. Haddadin says.
Spider veins are treated through a process called sclerotherapy, in which they are injected with chemicals to help them close.
Varicose veins can be treated in a simple outpatient procedure. They can either be closed using a laser or by radio frequency, Dr. Haddadin says.
Or, they can be treated through cutting out a portion of the vein through a small incision.
Dr. Haddadin says a new method of treatment, called MOCA, has become more popular over the last few years. In that procedure, the inside of the veins are scraped before they are treated with chemicals.
“There is a little rotor wire that scrapes the inside vein walls and then they are injected with chemicals for permanent closure,” he says. “You don’t need anesthesia, and you don’t have pain during or after the procedure.”
Dr. Guanzon says he treats his most serious of cases might with surgery in a hospital.
Those veins need to be treated where the superficial vein meets the root vein.
“You need to treat the underlying problem,” he says.
Karen Kruzan, the office manager for the Vein Care Center, says most insurance companies cover treatment of spider veins and varicose veins, depending on the treatment chosen. Since the MOCA procedure is still relatively new, not all insurance companies are covering that form of treatment, Dr. Haddadin says.
Dr. Guanzon says that while each individual patient recovers differently, most require little or no follow-up treatment after the procedure is complete.
“Most feel an improvement in their symptoms,” he says. “They feel less pain, and see an improvement in their lifestyle.”
Kruzan says if you are suffering from painful varicose veins, it is important to get them treated as soon as possible.
“The problems don’t go away themselves,” she says. “It’s like a cavity. If you let it fester, it gets worse. They can become more painful and cause other medical problems.”