Varicose veins may be unattractive, but they are also extremely common, with some 25 million Americans (predominantly women) suffering from the condition, which typically affects veins in the lower leg. In healthy leg veins, valves open and close to assist in the return flow of blood back to the heart, but damaged or diseased valves can be leaky, resulting in blood pooling and causing veins to bulge under the pressure.
The condition is progressive if not treated, and the concern is often more cosmetic than medical. In most cases, varicose veins are harmless though there is a risk they may result in superficial thrombophlebitis—a blood clot in the vein, which could lead to stroke.
Those at high risk for varicose veins include pregnant women whose jobs require prolonged sitting or standing and women who are overweight. Women may find their varicose veins to be more of a problem when they are menstruating.
Risk factors for varicose veins include:
- Family history
- Prolonged standing
- Leg injury
- Abdominal straining
There are many treatments that can help improve the appearance of varicose veins, but there are also times when a doctor should evaluate varicose veins for medical reasons, not just cosmetic ones. If you experience painful swelling or bulging veins, see a doctor as this could indicate a dangerous clot. Symptoms related to varicose veins that merit seeing a doctor include:
- Bulging veins
- Pain and swelling
- Leg heaviness and fatigue
- Skin changes
- Aching or cramping
- Burning or itching of the skin
An internal medicine or primary care doctor can help evaluate your symptoms, and advise when to see a Vascular Surgeon to better understand your symptoms and treatment options.
To find one, visit www.rsfh.com/findadoc.
By Dr. Adam Keefer, Coastal Vascular & Vein Center