Varicose veins can be a nuisance, and the symptoms are not just cosmetic. Yes, the stringy dark veins aren’t the least bit attractive, but the aching, cramping and swelling can affect your everyday routine and keep you from doing what you love.
Most people love thinking about preventive measures. However, sometimes no matter how much you make an effort to prevent these unwelcome visitors, they’ll sprout up somewhere on you anyway. Unfortunately, for many Americans, smooth varicose-free skin is more a distant dream than a reality. Approximately 40 million people across the nation suffer from varicose veins.
Luckily, there are easy ways to treat and even eliminate varicose and spider veins.
When they do crop up, varicose veins can make you instantly self-conscious and embarrassed. But they can also impact much more than your self-confidence, such as your wardrobe. Suddenly, you may find yourself trading previous favorites like shorts or skirts for long pants and jeans as you grow more self-aware and selective about which parts of your body you choose to expose.
Although in many cases there’s little you can do in the way of preventing varicose veins, fortunately, there are a few treatment options you can consider. However, before we get into those, it’s essential to understand precisely what varicose veins are, how they differ from spider veins and common reasons you may see either develop.
Varicose veins look about as ugly as they sound. They’re large, swollen, protruding blood vessels that twist and turn beneath the surface of your skin. Because they’re so raised and large, they’re clearly and almost instantly visible.
Even worse, varicose veins will often cause swelling in the areas they’re present and make your legs feel heavy or uncomfortable. They can also lead to more severe health conditions, like blood clots and sores that don’t heal, but it’s not impossible.
Several patients who suffer from varicose veins often complain of a cramping or aching sensation near the veins. Other typical symptoms include fatigue, itching, throbbing, cramping, burning, and tingling. One way to alleviate this discomfort is by investing in support hose that applies the right amount of pressure or by elevating your legs.
Varicose veins, however, shouldn’t be confused with spider veins. Spider veins are the much earlier, gentler version of varicose veins.
They’re best described as tiny, blue, red or purple vessels that are located in the skin. Like varicose veins, spider veins also twist and turn—except they don’t bulge or swell to protrude upward against the skin.
Generally, spider veins also aren’t painful, and they aren’t associated with the rare health problems varicose veins are, like blood clots.
While it’s possible to have both spider and varicose veins, it’s not necessarily true that spider veins will indefinitely lead to varicose veins. However, having varicose veins and spider veins indicates the presence of underlying vein disease, also known as chronic venous insufficiency. This means you shouldn’t take the appearance of this unseemly veins lightly.
Now that we understand what both spider and varicose veins are, you’re probably wondering how they form.
Varicose and spider veins develop naturally when blood flow issues are present. For instance, a healthy vein will carry blood to the heart through valves that allow force blood to flow in only one direction. This keeps the blood moving through the pathways it should and prevents any backflow. These healthy veins do their job by effectively delivering blood from superficial veins to deeper ones that eventually lead to the heart.
However, when veins don’t function properly, that’s not quite what happens. For instance, if you have muscle, valve or blood flow problems, this can cause blood to collect inside your veins. When this happens, the blood pushes up against the walls within your vein, creating pressure, which weakens the vessel wall. Ultimately, this pressure is what causes veins to twist and bulge.
Depending on how large the vein is and how swollen it gets, you’ll either end up with spider veins or varicose veins.
Now that we know how veins can develop into spider veins or varicose veins, let’s talk about the different aspects that influence your chances of having them.
Unfortunately, there aren’t just one or two factors that can influence the probability of your having spider or varicose veins—there are several. Below are the most common ones.
Heredity: People with a family history of vein disease have a higher likelihood of having it themselves.
Gender: Women are almost twice as likely to have varicose veins than men. Studies show that 17% of men and 33% of women are diagnosed with varicose veins.
Weight: The more you weigh, the more pressure you’re putting on your legs and the more likely you are to develop varicose veins.
Hormonal imbalances: factors like puberty, pregnancy and menopause can affect your hormone levels, which can trigger the development of varicose and spider veins.
Estrogen: The presence of the estrogen hormone in treatments can also increase your chances of vein disease.
Occupation: People who have jobs that require them to stand long periods (such as hairstylists, sales clerks, and nurses) are more likely to develop problematic veins.
Smoking: Smoking is detrimental to your health and body, including your veins, because it causes damage to your blood vessels, increasing your chances of vein disease.
Your medical history: If you have a known history of blood clots, you’re more prone to having varicose and spider veins.
Now that we know the difference between varicose and spider veins, how they develop and what will increase your chances of having them, let’s talk about what you can do to get rid of them.
If you suffer specifically from spider veins, it’s best to treat them early on before they worsen or develop into varicose veins. There are several options you can consider.
If you’re looking for a simple, more natural procedure, sclerotherapy might be something you should consider. This treatment is used mostly for the treatment of spider veins. It is an injection of a solution to narrow the veins.
This type of therapy injects a specially made solution directly into your vein, causing it to narrow and disappear gradually—typically within three to six weeks.
This is perhaps the quickest and most affordable outpatient procedure available.
Lasers & Intense Pulsed Light
Another option, particularly effective for spider veins, involves the use of surface lasers and intense pulsed light. These devices rely on energy from heat to demolish abnormal veins.
The perks of this solution are that it doesn’t require the use of needles, but you could still experience some discomfort. Side effects include staining, blister formation and skin discoloration.
Generally, this option is the least recommended of all the possibilities because it often leads to subpar, disappointing results.
If vein disease has already accelerated for you to form varicose veins, it’s likely that the symptoms, such as pain and discomfort, associated with this will prompt you to take action. The following are options you can consider.
Thermal Ablation (Radiofrequency)
With this procedure, a small catheter is placed into the problematic vein, usually longer and larger veins. This catheter delivers radiofrequency into the vein wall, causing it to grow hot, collapse and close shut. Thermal ablation eliminates the source of the vein disease and is done in conjunction with laser or radiofrequency. Usually, it is an outpatient procedure that requires the administration of local anesthesia.
Endovenous Laser Treatment (also thermal ablation)
With endovenous laser treatment, a small laser fiber is inserted into the vein. This laser then releases intense pulses of light (heat energy) into the vein, causing the vein to collapse. Like thermal ablation with radiofrequency, this treatment is also reserved and more effective for longer, larger veins, eliminates the source of the vein disease, and is done in conjunction with laser or radiofrequency.
Similar to the other treatment options, surgery is typically an outpatient procedure that requires the use of local anesthesia.
Polidocanol Injectable Foam (Varithena®)
This minimally invasive, nonsurgical treatment doesn’t require incisions. The injection site is usually numbed, but no additional anesthesia is required. A catheter is inserted into the malfunctioning vein or sometimes a direct injection is used. The foam fills up the targeted part of the vein, and the diseased vein collapses. (For smaller branches with vein reflux, foam is injected directly into the vein to eliminate it.) Blood flow shifts to healthier veins nearby.
If the thought of surgery or invasive treatments scares you, there are still other, more natural options you could consider; however, these may or may not be effective. No scientific proof exists stating that these adequately treat vein disease. At the same time, trying them out will not cause any problems.
Changes in Lifestyle
Altering your lifestyle and habits can have a significant impact on your likelihood of developing spider and varicose veins. Below are a few effective changes you should adopt if you want to see a difference in the appearance of your veins.
The less you weigh, the less pressure your legs will be forced to carry. This can lighten the appearance of existing varicose and spider veins and prevent new ones from sprouting.
Cardio is a great way to get the blood circulating throughout your body, which reduces the chances of it pooling in your veins and causing swelling. The other more obvious benefit of walking and cardio is that they can also aid weight loss.
Other forms of exercise that can also promote circulation and weight loss include yoga, swimming, cycling. These are all low-impact exercises that won’t strain your legs.
If you’re looking for something that’s quick, easy and doesn’t take much effort, support stockings are a great option. To make sure you’re using the most effective one for your size and one that applies the right amount of pressure, you can visit your healthcare provider.
Pressure is a particularly important component in support hose because the right amount will prevent blood clots from forming and get your blood flowing in the right direction—toward your heart. In turn, this can reduce the symptoms of spider or varicose veins. However, be aware it is considered more of a band-aid approach to the treatment of varicose veins, making it a poor long-term solution for the treatment of vein disease.
Essential oils are popularly used for many ailments. To treat spider and varicose veins, you can use horse chestnut oil, which is said to help reduce pain, itching and heaviness in the leg for patients who have chronic venous insufficiency. This is known to be a primary cause of varicose veins.
Pinus maritima, sea pine extract, and butcher’s broom extract are also said to reduce leg swelling (known as edema), which is often a common symptom of varicose veins.
Changes in Diet
Practicing a healthy diet cannot only help you lose weight, but it can also promote healthy veins. For instance, salty foods will cause water retention and create more significant pressure in your veins. So steering clear of foods high in sodium will work in your favor.
Potassium can reduce water retention if you do have a diet high in sodium. So you can opt for foods high in potassium, like salmon, potatoes, almonds, and pistachios, and also continue to steer clear of high-sodium foods.
Additionally, foods that contain flavonoids will be particularly helpful to you because they improve blood circulation. Flavonoids help your blood flow in the right direction and reduce the chances of it collecting in your veins. A healthy diet rich in flavonoids can also lower blood pressure in your arteries, which in turn will put less pressure on your blood vessels, reducing the possibility of varicose veins.
Foods rich in flavonoids include broccoli, bell peppers, garlic, onions, cherries, apples, and blueberries.
If you have existing varicose veins, you can treat them through outpatient procedures involving lasers or injections. These procedures are known to be highly effective by eliminating the pain and discomfort associated with vein disease.
It is important to remember that vein disease is progressive and will get worse without adequate treatment, so when you see signs of it, you should seek treatment.
Allure Medical offers free leg screenings to determine if you are a good candidate for vein treatment.