Varicose veins are enlarged veins in the subcutaneous tissue. Although mostly found in the legs, they can develop anywhere. Contrary to common expectations, aging is just one factor resulting in venous hypertension. Although aging does indeed make getting varicose veins more likely, these veins can appear at any age. Genetics play a major role, and sitting or standing for extended periods are also factors in varicose vein development.
Fortunately, treatments are available to minimise symptoms and even remove the veins entirely, forcing the blood to use other vessels to circulate. The reflux of blood and the resulting changes in appearance typically cause distress, but the condition affects about one-third of all adults.
What Are Varicose and Spider Veins?
Varicose veins are caused by venous insufficiency. This happens when the valves in your blood vessels stop working properly and allow some blood to pool in the veins. This results in enlarged veins, usually in the legs and feet. Although there is great patient concern about the cosmetic appearance of varicose veins, educating patients about the many treatment options provides a degree of reassurance.
Varicose veins appear as abnormally bulging veins. Their colour ranges from blue or bluish-green red or even flesh-coloured, and they typically develop more frequently in people over 50.
Spider veins are smaller veins on the legs, face and other areas. They also have damaged valves that make them more prominent, which can be especially troubling to patients who develop them on the face. They pose serious cosmetic concerns, but the veins seldom pose health risks.
More and more people in their 20s and 30s are developing varicose and spider veins. That can be attributed to the increase in sedentary jobs involving computer technology, lack of exercise, and increased clinical obesity.
The Health Risks of Varicose Veins
Although varicose veins might only pose cosmetic concerns, they can also indicate more serious circulatory problems. Varicose veins can generate pain and discomfort, feelings of heaviness in the legs, itching, skin discolouration and burning, throbbing and muscle cramping in the lower legs. The potential health complications include:
- Phlebitis: This is a condition that causes inflammation and swelling of the legs.
- Ulcers: Ulcers might form on the skin near varicose veins — especially those near the ankles.
- Bleeding: Occasionally, the skin might burst, but this usually result in minor bleeding.
- Blood Clots: Blood clots generate severe health risks such as leg swelling, great pain and the possibility that part of the clot breaks off and moves to the heart where it causes a heart attack.
- Pulmonary Embolisms: These occur when a part of the blood clot travels to the lungs, which can prove life-threatening.
There’s also the possibility that varicose veins indicate circulatory problems. The condition can indicate adult-onset diabetes, atherosclerosis, which is a build-up of arterial plaque, high blood pressure, low blood pressure and poor circulation.
The Contributory Causes of Varicose Veins
There’s no absolute formula for preventing varicose veins, but you can reduce the likelihood of developing them and treat the veins with a number of therapies. The most likely causes of people developing varicose or spider veins include:
If your parents have varicose veins, it’s more likely that you will develop them sometime in your life.
Injuries to the leg and some surgical procedures can result in long periods of inactivity, which is an ideal condition for developing varicose veins. The likelihood increases if you are prescribed medications that affect blood circulation.
Occupations that require standing in one place or sitting in one place make varicose veins more likely.
Pregnancy increases your risk of getting varicose veins. The weight gain and hormonal changes both trigger the pooling of venous blood, which causes the veins to enlarge –especially if you have a history of venous disease in your family.
Being overweight is one of the strongest contributory causes of developing varicose veins because the weight makes free blood circulation more difficult.
Increased hormones during puberty, pregnancy and menopause increase the possibility of developing varicose veins. Hormonal replace therapy can also trigger the same results.
- Blot Clot History
If you have a family history of blood clots, you’re more likely to get varicose veins.
Women are more likely to get varicose veins than men.
- Skin Trauma
Any skin trauma increases the chances of developing varicose veins. That includes accidental injuries, surgeries, vein surgery or excessive exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun.
- Abdominal Pressure
Activities that put lots of pressure on the abdominal area can increase the possibility of varicose veins. These include wearing girdles or form-fitting garments, having chronic constipation and developing internal tumors or hernias.
- Birth Control
Birth control pills affect the hormonal balance of women and can stimulate the development of varicose veins.
What You Can Do to Minimise or Relieve Symptoms
Although there are no known ways to prevent varicose veins absolutely, there are preventative measures that you can take to reduce your chances. You can also treat varicose veins with surgical intervention, cosmetic treatments, laser therapies and other medically valid treatments.
Self-care can often relieve your symptoms, and medical experts and self-care advocates largely agree on preventative measures that reduce the instances of varicose veins. Strategies include elevating your legs while sitting and wearing compression stockings. Generally, self-care measures are designed to present the condition from growing worse, but common preventative measures include:
- Managing your weight
- Adopting a high-fibre, low-salt-diet
- Elevating your legs often when sitting still
- Avoiding high-heels and tight hosiery
- Exercising regularly
- Taking breaks when standing or sitting for long periods
Medical Treatment Options
You should always consult a physician if you suspect you’ve developed varicose veins — even if it seems to be a normal part of the aging process. Varicose veins can serve as early warning signs of other health issues, and your case might be so severe that you need some kind of treatment for valid medical purposes.
Medical treatments for varicose veins fall into several categories that include conservative treatments, interventional treatments and pharmacological treatments.
Conservative Treatments of Varicose Veins
Conservative treatments of varicose veins are primarily designed to keep the disorder from growing worse. These include dietary recommendations, compression therapy, lifestyle advice and skin-soothing ointments. Weight management and exercise are encouraged for most patients.
Leg compression therapies have been used since the time of Hippocrates to treat varicose vein and leg ulcer symptoms. There are distinctive grades of leg-compression socks that apply varying degrees of compression and socks that range in coverage from mid-ankle to the bottom of the knee.
Medical interventions are used for extreme cases when the veins pose a threat to health or appear so unsightly that patients are willing to risk medical procedures or surgery. Surgical treatments include tying off the vein, avulsion and stripping. Today, these operations can be done under general, regional or local anaesthesia — depending on the surgeon’s preference or how extensive the procedure will be.
The clinical evidence supports the long-term safety of surgery used to remove varicose veins, but any surgical procedure comes with its attendant risks. Less invasive treatments are available, and patients can often be treated in an office setting as outpatients. Recovery times are reduced, and the possibility of surgical infections is greatly reduced.
An ambulatory phlebectomy is often selected as the preferred surgical treatment. This procedure only addresses veins that show on the surface, and it removes the visible bulging veins. Stripping veins is now seldom recommended because truncal veins, which run deep beneath the skin, generate considerable pain when stripped away and increase the risk of surgical complications.
Other interventional treatments include sclerotherapy. The physician injects a sclerosing chemical directly into the varicose vein, which irritates the area and generates an inflammatory response that shuts down the vein.
Thermal ablation is also used, which means heating the vein from the inside with a laser or radiofrequency pulse. This action causes irreparable damage to the vein, and the body closes it off as a protective measure. Two or more interventional treatments are often used in tandem for difficult cases.
Pharmacological Treatments of Varicose Veins
Currently, there are no approved pharmacological treatments for varicose veins in the United Kingdom. You can get some relief from topical skin treatments, and your physician might prescribe a painkiller for extreme levels of pain or discomfort until he or she can schedule an interventional treatment.
Important Considerations of Spider Veins and Varicose Veins
Although spider veins aren’t especially dangerous in a medical sense, they can be viewed as warnings of circulatory problems. Spider vein treatments are usually optional, but they can include: the following medical procedures:
This is the most common interventional treatment for spider veins. The treatment is a non-surgical office procedure that’s performed under a local anesthetic. The doctor injects a sclerosing foam into the veins using an ultra-fine needle. The veins shut down, scar and disappear.
- Laser Treatment
Using a laser pulse, your doctor targets your spider veins and destroys it without breaking the skin. Some people need a second treatment for larger spider veins.
This revolutionary treatment uses thermo-coagulation to get rid of unsightly spider veins. A tiny probe heats the veins using microwaves that cause the vein to collapse. The process only takes between 15 and 20 minutes.
- Endovenous Laser Treatment
This Laser treatment, commonly known as EVLT, uses a catheter to pass laser energy into the veins that you want removed. The heated veins take up to an hour to heat and collapse, but the gentle heat reduces the chances of making a painful error.
Cosmetic treatments of both varicose and spider veins aren’t available at the NHS, so you must pay for any cosmetic treatment. That’s often difficult for younger people who often worry more about their appearance than their long-term health. You might consider the following preventative and treatment tips:
- Leg Elevation
It sounds simple, but how you elevate your legs makes a difference. The best results happen when you lie down and raise your legs above your heart. A leg-elevation pillow will help.
- Eating Healthy
Eating healthy strengthens the immune system, improves circulation and helps to manage your weight, which are big pluses in your effort to prevent getting varicose or spider veins.
- Compression Socks
This simple fix works for hours each day to make it easier to pump blood back to the heart.
- Avoid Constrictive Clothes
Tight clothes restrict movement and compromise your body’s effort to circulate blood. Loose clothing is preferable for those who want to reduce their risk of getting spider or varicose veins.
Getting exercise is always a component of living a healthy lifestyle. Exercise strengthens all the body’s systems — especially the critical blood circulation. You’ll probably lose weight as well.
- Analyse Your Medications
You should research your medications to find whether you’re taking medicine that alters your blood circulation. If one does, talk to your doctor about whether an alternative is available.
- Take Walking Breaks
Most people work at sedentary jobs and drive everywhere — even to the neighbourhood shop. Walking breaks get your blood pumping, generate multiple health benefits and reverse some of the effects of gravity.
- Stop Smoking
Smoking damages the body’s circulation and breathing. It’s just a good idea to stop smoking or vaping based on all available clinical evidence.
Final Thoughts About Varicose Veins in Young People
There is no shame in getting varicose and spider veins, but today’s heightened focus on a youthful appearance inevitably affects you if you develop venous problems. Unfortunately, the enlarged veins might indicate some other medical condition, so you should always consult a doctor if you develop varicose or spider veins at an early age.
Read the labels of all medications that you’re taking to see whether any of them affect your circulation. Start eating healthier and exercise, and be sure to take breaks from long periods of standing or sitting. If you choose, you might get rid of any offending veins using interventional technique.
Depending on your particular case, varicose or spider veins might indicate other medical issues, and your doctor might recommend treatment for your continued health. If that’s the case, you should follow your doctor’s advice and the recommended tips for preventing future cases from occurring.
Varicose vein and spider vein treatments work especially well on young people in the teens and 20s. If the veins cause pain, itching, swelling, restless leg syndrome and other issues, you should discuss with your doctor the best option for removing the defective veins.
- Varicose Veins and the NHS’s Role in Treatment
- Pain Relief from Varicose Veins
- How to Reduce Appearance of Varicose Veins
- Varicose Veins Diagnosis & Management Guidelines by NICE
- Are Varicose Veins Common?