A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Varicose veins: Simple treatments for a common problem

Bulging, discolored veins in your legs may be doing more than making you self-conscious in shorts.

Discomfort, swelling, itching and rashes are common side effects of varicose veins that may interfere with your daily activities, but they don’t have to.

“There are great treatments available to get rid of unsightly, painful varicose veins,” vascular surgeon Dr. Douglas Wirthlin said.

woman's legs over the side of a wicker chair

If left untreated, varicose veins can cause sores, worsened swelling and permanently discolored skin.

What causes varicose veins?

Veins just beneath the skin become varicose when one-way valves inside the veins stop working properly. Blood pools in the veins, causing them to stretch out and look swollen.

Varicose veins are common and affect 20 percent of people. They’re more common in women than in men.

Common causes of varicose veins are:

  • Family history.
  • Obesity.
  • Jobs requiring prolonged standing.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Previous blood clots.

Are varicose veins dangerous?

“In most cases, varicose veins aren’t life threatening or limb threatening, but many people who have varicose veins would benefit from a vein screening,” Wirthlin said.

Most people are mainly worried about appearance and swelling. However, if left untreated, varicose veins can cause sores, worsened swelling and permanently discolored skin.

“In some cases, a blood clot can form in the superficial veins and cause redness and pain for about six weeks,” Wirthlin said. “Less frequently, these blood clots can make their way to the deep vein system and cause more serious health problems that require immediate treatment.”

Elevation and compression reduce discomfort

If varicose veins are causing pain and swelling, try home treatments like elevation and compression stockings to relieve the symptoms.

Elevate your legs above the level of your heart three times a day for 15 minutes each time.

Wear compression stockings that reach the knees or thighs to support the veins and reduce swelling.

These treatments won’t make varicose veins go away, but they may help you feel more comfortable.

If these treatments don’t relieve your symptoms, talk to your doctor about options to get rid of your varicose veins.

Medical treatment to eliminate varicose veins

“Most people get used to the symptoms of varicose veins over time or are embarrassed to say their legs ache,” Wirthlin said. “If you’re a person who doesn’t want to wear shorts because of varicose veins or they’re bothering you in any way, there are safe and effective solutions, and you would benefit from formal evaluation.”

Complete evaluation includes examination by a vein specialist and ultrasound of your veins.

Problem veins can be closed off from the inside with laser treatment, gently removed though a small incision or sealed by injecting a solution into the veins. These procedures are performed safely and conveniently in the office.

“A common question I am asked is, ‘What happens to the blood when those veins are taken out or closed?’” Wirthlin said.

The surface veins that become varicose only do about 10 percent of the work returning blood to the heart. Veins deeper in the leg do the other 90 percent of the work.

When varicose veins are removed, veins deep in the leg take over returning blood to the heart. In fact, the deep veins do their job better when the problem veins are gone, Wirthlin said.

Get help for varicose veins

Marshfield Clinic offers vein screenings including a non-invasive ultrasound, information about options for treating varicose veins, and explanation of insurance coverage for treatment.

Call 877-MC-VEINS to schedule a screening or to learn more about Vein Services at Marshfield Clinic.

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