An estimated 25 million Americans, mostly women, suffer from varicose veins. Varicose veins are usually caused by leaky valves in veins of the leg that result in pooling of blood under pressure. As pressure builds up, the branches of the main superficial veins dilate causing bulging varicosities.
Those at high risk include pregnant women whose jobs require prolonged sitting or standing and women who are overweight. Women may find their varicose veins more of a problem when they are menstruating. In most cases, varicose veins are harmless though there is a risk they may result in superficial thrombophlebitis, a blood clot in the vein.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Over time, the veins bulge, protrude from under the skin and are visually very distinct. People who suffer from varicose veins often find they cannot stand on their feet for extended periods of time and their legs feel achy.
Women should seek medical attention to rule out the possibility of a blood clot if there is pain and swelling of the leg or calf. Also, women who develop varicose veins suddenly and are not in a high-risk group, should have them evaluated by a vascular surgeon.
Diagnosing varicose veins is usually done visually. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used to identify clots in the abdomen. The diagnosis of a clot is usually made with a duplex ultrasound scan. Ultrasound is also used to plan an operative aproach if definitive treatment is desired.
There are a number of steps women can take to prevent varicose veins or reduce the intensity of their discomfort. Some of these steps include:
- Do not cross your legs when sitting. In fact, elevate your legs whenever the opportunity presents itself.
- Practice healthy eating habits. Lose weight and avoid salt and alcohol.
- If you must spend a good part of your day sitting at a desk or in front of a computer, get up regularly to exercise your legs.
- Make sure your socks or stockings as well as clothing and undergarments do not fit tightly, restricting blood flow. Many women find compression stockings relieve their discomfort
Medical Treatment Options
Sometimes a minor trauma (a bump or irritation) may cause the varicose vein to bleed. If applying pressure doesn't stop the bleeding, seek the advice of a healthcare professional. Also, women with varicose veins should be vigilant about seeking immediate medical attention if symptoms such as shortness of breath, feeling faint or chest pain occurs.
If surgery is required for treating varicose veins, physicians use a procedure called "stripping." Stripping typically requires an extended hospital stay, a lengthy recovery, and significant swelling, bruising, and pain.
Some patients may be treated with a VNUS ClosureFAST ablation catheter. Typically there is minimal pain and bruising, improving favorable outcomes for most women.
During the VNUS procedure, a small catheter is inserted into the vein via a needle stick under ultrasound guidance. The catheter delivers radiofrequency heat to the vein wall, causing it to shrink and close. Once the vein collapses, blood is re-routed to other healthy veins. Usually, no stitches are needed.
Operating times with a VNUS ClosureFAST ablation catheter is less than half of what it was with the earlier generation catheter. Treatment of the main superficial vein usually takes 15 or 20 minutes to complete (down from 45) and has a 98 percent success rate. After the procedure, the patient's leg is wrapped in a thick ace-type bandage that needs to be worn for two or three days. As soon as the patient recovers from the anesthetic, they are generally cleared to leave the outpatient surgery center. There are usually no restrictions on activity after surgery and most patients return to their daily activities and resume normal excercise within a day or two.