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Varicose veins: Remedies and treatment

Those bulging veins could lead to serious health issues.
/ Source: TODAY

If you’ve been covering up your legs because of unsightly knots of bluish veins, have hope: A simple procedure could help, according to an expert in treating varicose veins.

Of course, treating bulging veins isn’t just about vanity.

“People get upset when they see those veins,” said Dr. Paramjit “Romi” Chopra, founder and chairman of the Midwest Institute of Minimally Invasive Therapies, located near Chicago. But the unattractive appearance isn’t the worst problem with varicose veins, Chopra noted.

What is a varicose vein?

The bulging veins can lead to blood clots that could eventually end up in in the lungs, a very dangerous condition, Chopra explained. They can also result in pain, swelling, leg fatigue and discoloration that eventually might turn into painful ulcers caused by blood leaking from the veins, he said.

What causes varicose veins?

The cause of varicose veins, whether they are the large ropey variety or the thinner "spider" veins, is the same: malfunctioning valves. Think of the valves inside the veins as the locks in a canal. If a lock were to fail the water would flow backward leaving ships and barges stranded and the previous section of the canal flooded. A similar issue occurs when valves in the veins fail.

Veins are meant to bring blood back to the heart, Chopra explained. Your calves, as you walk or run, help push the blood in the veins up the leg past each valve. If the valve holds, then the blood moves up to the next vein segment with your next stride. But if the valve is faulty, the blood flows backwards building up pressure in the vein, eventually stretching out the blood vessel and sometimes allowing blood to leak into surrounding tissues. The hemoglobin in the leaking blood breaks down to a substance called hemosiderin.

“That acts like a tattoo discoloring the skin from the inside,” Chopra explained. Over time, painful skin ulcers can develop where the hemosiderin has accumulated.

Why do people get varicose veins?

Not everyone develops varicose veins, Chopra said, adding that there are a number of risk factors:

  • Family history
  • Older age
  • Female gender
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Occupation that requires a lot of standing
  • Smoking
  • Hypertension
  • Injury

While having a family history predisposes you to developing varicose veins, it doesn’t mean you’re destined to get them. Certain lifestyle changes may lower your risk, such as avoiding too much standing and developing an exercise program that allows your calves to do their work pumping blood up the legs, Chopra said. “You’ll never see a ballerina with varicose veins,” he added.

Remedies for varicose veins:

If you’ve already developed varicose veins, there are a number of ways to deal with them. Your choice, at least in part, may depend on which one your insurance company is willing to pay for, Chopra noted.

The first step is an ultrasound of the legs to discover which veins are causing the problems. Once the troublesome veins have been identified, then doctors can shut them down by using laser or radio frequency ablation. Though Chopra's treatment of choice is injections of a medication called frothy foam.

For that method, a catheter is inserted into the problem veins and then the foam is injected through the catheter. The foam covers the inside wall of the vein and destroys the blood vessel’s lining, Chopra said. “Then the vein scars down to a little thread,” he said.

Once the bulging blood vessels have been obliterated, patients need to commit to some lifestyle changes so new varicose veins don’t develop. Chopra encourages patients to wear compression stockings “to give relief and to keep veins from bulging out.” He also suggests patients avoid long periods of standing and to pick up some healthy habits like running or walking.