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Varicose Vein Symptoms and Risk Factors

Although they are a cosmetic issue for some people, varicose veins can cause significant discomfort.  Sometimes serious health complications result.  Patients can prepare for a visit to a vein specialist by learning about the associated symptoms and risk factors.

Varicose Vein Symptoms

While some signs of varicose vessels are invisible, these veins are sometimes quite pronounced.  Typically blue or purple, they frequently appear bulging and ropelike.  They most often develop in the legs, although they might occur elsewhere.

MedlinePlus notes that the most common symptoms include:

  • A feeling of aching, heaviness, and fullness in the affected leg
  • Veins that are visible and look swollen
  • Cramping in the thigh or calf, particularly at night
  • Itching
  • Mild swelling of the feet or the ankles

When blood flow through an affected vein worsens, a patient might experience these additional symptoms:

  • Swelling of the limb
  • Pain in the leg or the calf after extended sitting or standing
  • Changes in leg or ankle skin color
  • Dry skin that is irritated and scaly and cracks easily
  • Ulcers resistant to healing
  • Hardening and thickening of leg and ankle skin

Failure to get prompt treatment for varicose veins sometimes results in serious complications.  Among them are ulcers, blood clots, and bleeding, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Risk Factors for Varicose Veins

Who is at risk for developing varicose veins?  The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute cites seven risk factors:

  • A family history is present in half of patients.
  • Aging causes vein wear and tear.
  • Hormonal changes make women more susceptible than men.
  • A pregnancy includes fetal pressure on the mother’s legs.
  • Being obese or overweight puts excessive pressure on veins.
  • Lack of body movement such as standing for extended periods makes veins work harder.
  • Trauma to a leg might weaken veins’ ability to move blood.

Treatment Options from a Vein Specialist

To reduce discomfort, a vein doctor is likely to initially recommend conservative treatment and lifestyle changes.  Examples are wearing compression stockings, avoiding crossing the legs, and shedding any excess weight.

When it becomes necessary to eliminate varicose veins, physicians currently offer several outpatient options.  A specialist performs an ambulatory microphlebectomy under local anesthesia in the office.  This procedure is ideal for large veins and involves making tiny incisions through which the physician removes targeted veins with a surgical hook.  Discomfort is minimal.

For deeper veins, vein doctors combine ultrasound with chemical ablation.  Ultrasound guides an injection of a concentrated chemical into a targeted vessel.  The staff applies a pressure bandage to help seal off the vein.  Eventually, the vein walls stick to themselves so that the vein remains closed.

Laser ablation involves using ultrasound for guidance in inserting a tiny laser fiber into a vein.  After the activated laser closes the vein, the physician slowly withdraws the fiber.