Understanding Leg Veins
Leg veins, or varicose veins, are fairly common in adults over 50 years old, especially women. Unsightly leg veins can be embarrassing and painful to live with.
We spoke with Scott James, DO, a vascular surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth, for his input on the cause of varicose veins, prevention, and treatment options for patients.
Q: What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are veins that become abnormally swollen and large, usually due to a malfunction of valves inside of the vein that are designed to prevent blood from flowing backward in the vein. Varicose veins are sometimes bluish in color, protrude from the surface of the skin, and frequently have a winding or worm-like appearance. Varicose veins typically take years to develop. Spider veins are similar to varicose veins, but they are smaller, closer to the surface of the skin and are red or blue in color.
Q: Who is most susceptible to developing varicose veins?
Women are four times more likely than men to develop varicose veins. While they are often inherited, varicose veins can be brought on by obesity, which causes greater pressure on vein valves that can lead to weakening; and by changes in hormone levels caused by pregnancy, menopause, and birth control pills. It is estimated that 20-25% of women and 10-15% of men have or will have varicose veins in their lifetime.
Q: How can I prevent varicose veins?
Normally, you cannot prevent varicose veins from forming. However, there are steps you can take to prevent the ones you have from getting worse. Avoid standing or sitting for long periods without taking a break and when sitting, avoid crossing your legs. Being active to get your legs moving will help blood move through your veins. If you're overweight, try to lose weight. This will improve blood flow and ease the pressure on your veins. Wear compression stockings if your doctor recommends them. These stockings create gentle pressure up the leg. This pressure will prevent blood from collecting in the veins and will decrease swelling in the legs1. Always consult your physician first to see which method may work best for you.
Q: How are spider and varicose veins treated?
Following the diagnosis of varicose veins, there are a number of treatment options to choose from. Some include:
- VNUS Closure: non-surgical technique used to seal the vein.
- Laser: a quick, painless, minimally invasive treatment using laser energy to seal a
- Microphlebectomy: removing the vein through tiny incisions in the leg.
For spider veins, visual sclerotherapy is used. This involves injecting the veins with a tiny
needle filled with solutions called, “sclerosants” to safely eliminate the veins.
Want more information on varicose vein treatment?
Call the Beth Israel Deaconess Vein Center in Plymouth for more information (508) 747-1333 or visit www.bidplymouth.org/vein-center.