Failing to treat your varicose veins can lead to a lifetime of physical discomfort.

Failure to treat your varicose veins can lead to a lifetime of physical discomfort.

Thirty percent of adults will, at some point in their life, develop varicose veins. Through a variety of causes, these swollen and twisted blood vessels develop just below the surface of the legs and thighs. And not only are they aesthetically unpleasing, but, left untreated, varicose veins also can cause a lifetime of physical discomfort.

But despite the prevalence of this condition, many people are still unsure about its causes and health implications. To help raise awareness, Dr. Susan O’Horo, a Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) board-certified interventional radiologist and vein care specialist, offers the following important information about varicose veins and helps dispel some common misconceptions.

1. Not just cosmetic

Varicose veins are often seen as a condition of concern for cosmetic reasons. This may be true, but varicose veins also can cause aching, pain, itching, a heavy feeling in the legs, and even greater health implications. It is quite common for patients to seek an evaluation solely for cosmetic reasons, but then be told that they also have underlying vein problems that could impact their physical health. With this in mind, it is always wise for patients with varicose veins to undergo a thorough examination, particularly if they are experiencing any of the symptoms described above.

2. An ageless problem

Although your risk increases as you get older, it is a common misconception that varicose veins only affect the elderly. In fact, this is a condition that can affect people of all ages, even those in their mid- to late-teens.

3. Gender neutral

Although women are more likely to develop varicose veins, up to 25 percent of men eventually experience the condition.

4. Avoid crossing your legs

Crossing your legs restricts your circulation and can cause varicose veins.

5. Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated is certainly a healthy thing to do, but a lack of hydration does not cause or aggravate varicose veins.

6. Exercise is good

Exercise does not cause or aggravate varicose veins. In fact, exercise is great for your vein health. It improves circulation in the legs, causing the blood to flow smoothly and reducing the likelihood of blood pooling in the veins. Exercise also reduces blood pressure, putting less pressure on the valves in the veins and reducing the chance of them becoming damaged.

7. Genetics: a risk factor that you can’t control

Genetics are the biggest contributing factor to the development of varicose veins. If your parents or grandparents suffered from varicose veins, there is a far greater chance that you also will.

8. Obesity increases your risk

Obesity and weight gain can increase your chances of developing varicose veins. Excessive weight gain puts extra pressure on veins and valves, causing them to stretch and weaken. The valves eventually lose their ability to fully seal the vein, and blood that should be heading toward the heart instead flows back toward the legs. This leads to blood pooling and enlargement of the veins.

9. Pregnancy can play a role

Pregnancy increases your chances of developing varicose veins. However, contrary to popular belief, the weight of the baby has very little impact on the development of varicose veins. It is more likely that hormonal changes during pregnancy loosen the valves in the veins, which causes them to swell and bulge. Pelvic varicose veins also can develop and exacerbate the varicose veins in the legs.

10. Don’t count on over-the-counter remedies

There is no reliable evidence that herbal remedies, varicose vein supplements, or other over-the-counter products can cure varicose veins.

11. How are varicose veins treated?

There are a variety of non-surgical treatment options for symptomatic varicose veins, including:

  • Endovenous Laser Treatment (EVLT®) is one of the most effective treatments currently available for the treatment of varicose veins. EVLT is a quick and painless procedure that uses laser energy to close the faulty varicose veins. Once the problem veins are closed off, blood re-routes through the normal veins and flows more efficiently.
  • Sclerotherapy uses a very fine needle to inject a solution into the varicose vein and seal it shut.
  • Ambulatory phlebectomy is micro-extraction procedure that removes large surface varicose veins through skin incisions as small as one millimeter and leaves no scars.

To learn more about these treatments and other vein care services, visit www.brighamandwomens.org/veincenter.

If you’d like a FREE varicose vein screening from one of our specialists, come to this weekend’s (June 22/23) Health and Fitness Expo at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. Visit our Expo page for more details.

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