Everything you need to know about varicose veins

Courtesy photo (Henry Ford Health System)

Varicose veins affect up to 35% of Americans.

But what causes them and and how can they be treated?

Henry Ford Health vascular surgeon Paul Corcoran, M.D., answers frequently asked questions about varicose veins.

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are twisted, bulging, and enlarged veins that are visible beneath the surface of the skin”, Corcoran said. “Some people are bothered by their ropy, discolored appearance. Others experience pain, swelling, heaviness and cramping.”

Corcoran adds that varicose veins are sometimes accompanied by tiny red veins know as spider veins.

What causes varicose veins?

“Varicose veins are caused by venous insufficiency,” Corcoran said. “Which means they have weak or damaged valves inside the veins that let blood flow backwards, rather than travel to the heart. Pooling blood in the veins causes them to twist and swell into varicose veins.”

Who gets varicose veins?

The short answer: many people. “Venous disease is four times more common than artery disease,” Corcoran said. “And varicose veins is a prevalent venous condition.”

Risk factors for developing varicose veins include:

• Age

• Family history

• History of blood clots in the legs

• Hormones

• Standing or sitting for a long time

• Vein valve defects at birth

“The hormonal connection includes the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy,” Corcoran said. “These hormones put women at risk, specifically for deep vein thrombosis.”

If varicose veins are so common, why see a provider?

“Varicose veins can be a progressive condition,” Corcoran said. “When left untreated, symptoms can worsen and complications may arise, such as skin conditions, sores that don’t heal and deep vein thrombosis.”

Corcoran reminds people that the earlier you receive a diagnosis and proper management from a vascular expert, the better the chances of staving off long-term problems.

How are varicose veins diagnosed?

“We use different imaging tests to diagnose varicose veins,” Corcoran sad. “Imaging tests range from a specialized ultrasound that compares blood pressures in your ankle and arm to CT scans to venography.”

Corcoran remarks that it’s important to have access to the full range of diagnostic capabilities. This helps ensure accurate diagnosis for the simplest and most complex conditions.

What treatment options are available for varicose veins?

“Although you can easily see varicose veins, they’re more than skin deep,” Corcoran said.

It’s not a matter of removing the varicose veins, but rather treating their source. Modern treatments include both noninvasive and minimally invasive procedures.

“One noninvasive treatment is sclerotherapy, in which medication is injected into affected veins,” Corcoran said. “Minimally invasive procedures often take place inside the vein. Some of these leading-edge procedures use lasers, radio waves or stents.”

What kind of post-procedure downtime can I expect?

“Noninvasive and minimally invasive procedures deliver faster recovery times,” Corcoran said. “Most people can go back to their normal routine the next day. The interruption to your daily life is brief.”

Do varicose veins come back?

“Treatment is not always a ‘one and done’ situation,” Corcoran advises. “Varicose and spider veins can return, and you may need touch-up or annual procedures.”

Are surgical procedures the only options for varicose veins?

“Depending on your situation, nonsurgical options may be right for you,” Corcoran said. “You can make lifestyle changes like walking, losing weight or eating a low-sodium diet.”

Corcoran also suggests you can consider wearing compression stockings or socks.

“You can find compression stockings at pharmacies, drugstores and online,” he said. “With normal use, they typically last six months.”

What should I look for in a provider?

“You want an expert in the field,” Corcoran said. “See a vascular surgeon. They’re residency and fellowship-trained in vascular medicine to diagnose, manage and treat simple and complex vascular disease.” Corcoran also suggests multi-specialty groups for their comprehensive, whole person care.

The bottom line? Don’t ignore your symptoms and get the right care right away. See a vascular expert at Henry Ford Health to evaluate and treat your condition, whether it’s straightforward or an advanced form of vascular disease.

To make an appointment call 313-916-3980 to make or visit HenryFord.com/VeinCenter.