Compression for Varicose Veins
What are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are twisted, enlarged veins located near or raised above the surface of the skin. Varicose veins are often dark blue in color, and are most commonly seen on the legs, but they can occur anywhere on the body. These veins connect with the deep veins of the leg and play a minor role in the transfer of blood to the heart. In the majority of cases, varicose veins are just a cosmetic nuisance.
Varicose veins can result from broken valves in veins underlying the skin that are not visible to the eye. In the legs, the underlying veins are called the Saphenous and Perforator Systems of Veins, and they connect to even deeper veins which are well below the skin’s surface--under the muscles of the leg.
In healthy veins without broken valves, the flow of venous blood in the leg is directed upward toward the heart. When one or more of these valves fails to function, the blood in the malfunctioning vein flows in the reverse direction, causing the veins under the skin to engorge and distend. The “backup” of blood flow increases the pressure in the veins to a level that is three to four times the normal. This high pressure then causes the veins to bulge and stretch, and usually results in inflammation and pain.
Varicose veins do not occur suddenly. It can take years for signs and symptoms to develop. Genetics and inheritance play a big role in their occurrence, but anyone can develop them, even without a family history. They commonly occur during pregnancy and in people that have had certain types of leg injuries or deep vein blood clots. People that work in jobs that require prolonged standing or sitting are also at higher risk. Not surprisingly, many of our patients work as teachers, nurses, assembly line workers, pharmacists, bartenders, construction workers, and cashiers.
A physical exam, along with ultrasound, is necessary to determine the extent and severity of the varicose veins (i.e. whether or not the varicose veins are caused by broken valves in the veins underlying the skin).
Early Symptoms of Varicose Veins may include:
- Pain or a heavy feeling in the legs, relieved by elevation
- Large twisted veins bulging above the surface of the skin
- Swelling of the ankle or lower leg
- Discolored, dry, itchy skin near the ankle
- A rash or skin ulceration on the ankle or lower leg
There may be other reasons for any one of the above symptoms, however, two or more of the symptoms at nearly the same time may be an indication of varicose veins or other venous disorders. Although less common, it is possible to have varicose veins and not experience painful symptoms.
Varicose veins can be self-treated through exercise, elevating your legs, not wearing tight clothes, and avoiding long periods of standing or sitting. Compression therapy is also a very common treatment of varicose veins, which requires the patient to wear compression stockings.
If you don’t respond to self-treatment or compression therapy, or if you have a more serious case of varicose veins, it can be treated through sclerotherapy, surgery, or vein stripping.