Lifestyle changes like exercising can help ease pain from varicose veins and keep them from getting worse. / Ron Koeberer/Getty Images/Aurora Creative
They’re not just a cosmetic issue: That’s the first thing you need to know about varicose veins.
Usually found on the legs, they can cause an achy pain or heavy feeling in some; in others, burning, throbbing and swelling. Sometimes, varicose veins lead to more serious skin ulcers and blood clots; they could also indicate a higher risk for other circulatory problems. At least 20 million to 25 million Americans have varicose veins, according to some estimates. Here’s what else you should know:
How to spot them: They’re dark purple or blue, look twisted and enlarged, and often are raised above the skin. Veins can become varicose when their valves are weakened or damaged. Normally, valves open and shut to keep blood moving in one direction, back toward the heart. When they aren’t working properly, blood can flow backward through the valves and pool in the veins, causing them to stretch, swell and twist. (Spider veins are similar, but they’re smaller, don’t bulge and look more like tree branches or spider webs.)
Treat them: Start with lifestyle changes — exercising, elevating your legs and avoiding long periods of standing or sitting can help ease pain and keep veins from getting worse. In some cases, compression stockings may be needed to help with blood flow. For more severe varicose veins, there are a number of minimally invasive options that can fade or remove the vein; newer treatments use laser or radiofrequency to heat and close off the vein.
Reduce your risk: You can’t completely prevent varicose veins from forming, and certain risk factors are out of your control, like family history and age; women also are more likely to develop them than men. But you can take steps to improve circulation and muscle tone, such as watching your weight and following a high-fiber, low-salt diet. What you do to ease discomfort from varicose veins also helps prevent more from forming, like working out, changing positions regularly and not wearing tight pants. Skipping high heels could help, as well; avoiding crossing your legs, though, may or may not make a difference, some doctors say.
Need to treat varicose veins? Jonathan Calure, president and surgical director of Maryland Vein Professionals, tells us the most effective and painless way to take care of them:
What is the process?
Catheter ablation. The catheter is used to cauterize the vein, sealing it up rather than completely removing it.
How much does it cost?
The procedure is covered by medical insurance. Out of pocket, the procedure costs about $3,000.
How long does the procedure take?
What about recovery?
Patients can resume normal activities after the procedure. “I suggest less lifting and no submergence of water for a few days,” Calure says.
— Stephanie Smart