For most individuals, varicose veins are simply a nuisance or cosmetic problem. However, in more severe cases, varicose veins can cause significant pain and discomfort and may lead to more serious health issues.
Unlike arteries, veins transport de-oxygenated blood from the rest of the body back to the heart. Although any vein in the body may become varicose, the veins in the lower limbs are more susceptible. This is due the fact that the veins in the leg must work against the force of gravity in order to return the blood to the heart. Therefore, the pressure in the veins of the lower limbs is elevated when compared to the rest of the body.
Tiny one-way valves are located in the veins of the body. Healthy valves only let the blood flow towards the heart but prevent backflow. Muscle contractions in the lower limbs as well as the elasticity of the vein walls act like a pump to help return the blood to the heart against the force of gravity.
The symptoms of varicose veins vary from person to person. In most cases, the first symptom that is noticed is veins that are dark purple or blue in colour. Often, the veins will appear to be twisted, bulging cords in the lower leg. If pain is present, it is often described as a heavy, aching feeling in the leg. Other symptoms include itching, burning or throbbing around the affected vein. The pain associated with varicose veins usually worsens after sitting or standing for long periods of time.
There are several causes for varicose veins. Most commonly, it is due to increased age. As we age, our veins lose elasticity in their walls, which may allow blood to flow backwards away from the heart. In addition, wear and tear of the valves may also allow the backflow of blood. These two factors will lead to blood pooling in the veins, which in turn will cause the veins to enlarge and become varicose.
Another common cause of varicose veins is pregnancy. During pregnancy, there are significant changes in a woman’s circulatory system. These changes may cause a woman to develop varicose veins for the first time or cause existing varicose veins to worsen.
Finally, professions that require you to either stand or sit for long periods of time may put you at an increased risk of varicose veins. Maintaining a static position for extended periods of time reduces the amount of blood flow in the body. This is one of the reasons that I recommend that my patients who are professional truck drivers try their best to get out of the truck as often as possible.
Your doctor will be able to diagnose varicose veins by taking a detailed history and performing a physical examination. If necessary, your doctor will recommend an ultrasound test to confirm the diagnosis.
The good news is that treatment for most cases of varicose veins doesn’t include invasive procedures. The first form of treatment is usually wearing compression stockings. These stockings provide pressure to help the veins move the blood more efficiently. If conservative treatments fail, your doctor may recommend sclerotherapy. During this procedure, the doctor injects a solution into the varicose veins which causes them to scar and close up.
Within weeks of treatment, the veins generally decrease in size and fade away. This procedure may need to be repeated if it doesn’t fully work the first time.
Doctors are now starting to use lasers in the treatment of varicose veins. Laser surgery works using light to shrink the size of the veins.
It is important to discuss all the possible treatments with your doctor in order to decide which is best for you.
Until next month, drive safely.
Dr. Christopher H. Singh runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at the 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 519-421-2024.