Enlarged, twisted veins that stick out on the calves and thighs are known as varicose veins, and they can be painful as well as embarrassing. Fortunately, if you understand the main causes of these veins, you may be able to take steps to lower your risk of getting them. Additionally, there are plenty of minimally-invasive treatment options for enlarged veins that are offered by Beach Cities Vein & Laser Center in El Segundo, CA.
What Are the Main Causes of Varicose Veins?
The function of veins in the body is to pump blood back to your heart, and as the blood passes through a vein, a valve alternately opens and closes to first allow blood to enter and then to prevent too much blood from entering at one time. When you have varicose veins, though, the valves don’t work properly, causing blood to pool in the veins and making it hard for the vein’s muscles to pump it back to the heart.
Rather than the blood flowing easily from one valve to the next, it continues to pool in the veins, causing the veins to become enlarged and twisted. Since veins closer to the surface have weaker muscles than deep veins, they tend to be the veins that become varicose, although any vein can turn into a varicose vein if a valve malfunctions. Gravity plays a part in causing enlarged veins because it’s more difficult for veins to pump blood against gravity.
The medical cause of veins that become varicose is malfunctioning vein valves, but what causes these valves to malfunction in the first place? There are several main factors that lead to enlarged veins, which are referred to as contributing causes because they trigger the underlying medical cause that eventually leads to varicose veins. Not everyone who has one or more of these factors will develop these painful, enlarged veins, but many will.
Genetics is a major reason why veins become varicose, as heredity plays a bigger role in their development than any other single cause. If you have a parent or sibling who suffers from this condition, it’s more likely that you will, too. In fact, if one parent has this condition, you have a 40% chance of also getting it. If both parents have it, your risk increases to 90%. Improperly functioning valves or having too few valves are inherited traits.
Conditions that put excessive pressure on the lower part of the body increase the risk of having veins that become varicose. Pregnancy significantly increases the amount of pressure on your legs, especially if you’re carrying multiples. Studies show that up to 40% of pregnant women get this condition. It’s usually not necessary to get these veins treated while you’re pregnant, as they’re typically not painful. Additionally, they will go away after you deliver your baby because the pressure is alleviated.
As with pregnancy, excess weight puts additional pressure on your legs and abdomen, which can lead to veins becoming varicose. While you can get your veins treated using minimally-invasive techniques while obese, you have a better chance of them not returning if you lose the extra weight first. In fact, once you lose the weight, the bulging veins may disappear on their own. However, if your valves are not working properly, they still may need to be treated.
Standing or Sitting for Long Periods of Time
If you have a job that requires you to stand for long periods of time, you are putting extra pressure on your legs and making your veins work harder to pump the blood back to your heart. To mitigate this concern, try to sit for ten minutes each hour. If you can’t do that, alternate putting one foot on a box or step while the other remains on the ground. This will help keep your blood circulating in your legs.
Sitting for long periods of time is another hazard that can weaken the muscles in your leg veins. As with any muscle, vein muscles need to be exercised for them to work properly. Standing up and moving around stimulates the vein muscles to pump the blood against gravity back to your heart. As such, living a sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for developing enlarged veins that may need to be treated to alleviate pain and other symptoms.
As we age, our veins naturally weaken, which means they’re not as efficient at pumping blood against gravity back to our heart. This isn’t a cause that you can fix because you can’t control the weakening of your vein walls. You can exercise to ensure they stay as healthy as possible, but age will run its course eventually regardless. This is one cause that may require you to get treatment if you want to get rid of your bulging veins.
Any trauma to the legs that also damages the veins in the legs can cause veins to become varicose. This trauma could have damaged the veins’ walls or their valves, but either way, they may not work properly to pump the blood back to the heart and will lead to pooling blood. If you’ve suffered an injury to your legs, you will want to be on the lookout for veins that need to be treated using a minimally-invasive technique.
As already discussed, the main symptom of veins that have become varicose is that they bulge under the skin and have a twisted, rope-like appearance. You can see them with your naked eye, which is why some people find them embarrassing. Other symptoms of this condition include the following.
- Itchy skin that surrounds the impacted veins
- Cramping, aching, or throbbing pain in the legs
- Pain when you stand or sit for a long time
- Swelling in the legs
- Heaviness in the legs
- Fatigued or weak legs
- Discoloration or hardness of the skin on the legs
- Skin ulcers, typically near the ankles
These veins may never become painful, so they don’t necessarily need to be treated unless you don’t like how they make you look. However, that’s as good of a reason as any to take advantage of the technology that exists to eliminate this condition in a way that does not require surgery. If they’re painful, though, or are interfering with your daily activities, you definitely want to seek treatment from a clinic that specializes in vein conditions.
There are many minimally-invasive treatments available for veins that have become varicose. By choosing a clinic that specializes in treating vein conditions, you’ll have your choice of treatments based on what you and your provider determine is the best course of action for your needs. Available treatments include the following:
- Endovenous laser treatment (also referred to as EVLT, EVLA, or EVLeS)
- Radiofrequency ablation (also referred to as RFA or Venefit)
- Mechanico-chemical ablation (also referred to as MOCA or ClariVein)
- Chemical ablation (also referred to as Varithena)
- Ultrasound guided sclerotherapy
You and your provider may also decide to take a more conservative approach to healing your veins by making some lifestyle changes or using over-the-counter treatments to minimize their appearance and discomfort. The following at-home treatment options may be discussed at your consultation.
- Compression stockings
- Over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medications
- Homeopathic remedies
- Increased exercise
- Weight loss
- Change in footwear
- Leg elevation
These at-home treatments are worth trying before opting for medical treatment; however, this is a decision that is best made after you receive a medical evaluation at a vein clinic. Your provider can examine your veins and advise you on the best course of treatment. If the conservative at-home treatments are not effective, you can always return to the clinic to seek out medical alternatives.
There are some myths that surround this condition that are important to be corrected if you’re suffering from these enlarged veins. Dispelling these myths may help you determine if medical treatment is right for you.
Myth #1: Only Women Get Enlarged Veins
While they do occur more often in women, men also suffer from veins that have become varicose. Men who have more than one risk factor can get enlarged veins just as often as women, especially if they have a family history of them.
Myth #2: You Can’t Treat This Condition
We have already disproven this myth by outlining all the treatment options that are available, from at-home options to minimally-invasive treatments in a clinical setting. There are also surgical remedies that require more invasive techniques, but if you have access to technology that eliminates the need for surgery, why not use it?
Myth #3: Veins Will Become Varicose Again After Treatment
In some cases, you may need additional treatments to completely eliminate these veins, but the minimally-invasive treatments discussed above have a very high success rate at completely eradicating the targeted veins. You may get new veins that become varicose, but there is little risk of a recurrence in treated veins.
Myth #4: Insurance Does Not Cover Treatment
This is a myth that is not always true because vein treatments can be covered depending on the treatment and your symptoms. Veins that are causing pain, swelling, or bleeding may be considered medically necessary by your insurance. This is something that will need to be determined on a case-by-case basis at your consultation. Vein treatment for strictly cosmetic reasons may not be covered.
Myth #5: Only Older People Get This Condition
As we’ve seen, anyone whose vein valves do not function properly, has weak vein muscles, or has experienced trauma to the legs can get these enlarged veins. Additionally, people who are pregnant, obese, or sit or stand for long periods are more likely to suffer from this condition due to the extra pressure added to the legs.
The best action you can take with regard to veins that have become varicose is to schedule a consultation with a vein treatment specialist. Contact Beach Cities Vein & Laser Center in El Segundo, CA today to make your first appointment with our vein experts.