What are varicose veins and how do you get rid of them?

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Varicose veins are tortuous, enlarged veins that typically occur in the lower extremities. Varicose veins are extremely common and for many, they are simply a cosmetic concern. However, for others, varicose veins can cause pain, discomfort, and more serious problems down the road.

They are those large and twisted veins you can see under the skin and typically occur in the legs. Varicose veins are usually a sign of problems with venous insufficiency and the return of blood from your legs back to your heart.  This means that the valves in your veins don’t work normally.  They are not dangerous but can be quite uncomfortable—sometimes feeling incredibly hot, burning, or itching.

Spider veins and varicose veins are often discussed interchangeably.  While both are the result of damaged veins, the two are different as are the treatments. Varicose veins occur in larger superficial veins and are a sign of problems with venous insufficiency, whereas spider veins affect the smaller veins and capillaries near the skin surface. They spread out in a web pattern under the skin, thus the name. They also have a high correlation with family history or genetics, pregnancy, or obesity.

The good news is that varicose veins are almost never dangerous. They look unsightly, but will not damage your leg or joints and rarely cause a dangerous clot or bleed.

The first line of treatment for chronic venous insufficiency is to try non-surgical strategies. The goal is to promote the normal flow of blood through the veins and reduce the pooling of blood in your legs. These conservative strategies may include:

  • wearing compression stockings
  • avoiding standing or sitting for long periods,
  • exercising regularly (walking is a good choice)
  • losing weight if you are overweight,
  • elevating your legs frequently so that they are above the level of your heart,

Other treatment options include Endovenous Laser Ablation Treatment (EVLT), litigation and stripping surgery, and/or microphlebectomy procedures.

For more information visit heart.uofuhealth.org.

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