Are varicose veins keeping you from wearing clothes that show too much
leg? You’re not alone. In fact, more than 50 percent of women and
30 percent of men suffer from unsightly and sometimes painful varicose
veins that can strike at any age.
“Varicose veins aren’t simply a cosmetic concern. They can
signal an underlying circulatory problem that can be medically very dangerous,”
BCH diagnostic and interventional radiologist
Jie Mao, MD, explained during a free health lecture held in Boulder.
Even if you aren’t troubled by your varicose veins, you should be
aware of some problems that can occur if you ignore them for too long.
Watch a recording of Dr. Mao's lecture
on "Say Goodbye to Varicose Veins."
Symptoms and Complications
Varicose veins can appear as swollen, twisted and bulging veins or as
dark blue blood vessels, most commonly in your legs or feet.
Dr. Mao said that, for many people, they do not cause pain or any other
overt symptoms. For other people, varicose veins can cause symptoms in
the legs known as HASTI:
“These symptoms are usually worse at end of day and with prolonged
standing or increased activity,” Dr. Mao explained.
Other symptoms can include:
- Restless legs that make it hard to sleep
- Muscle cramping in lower legs
- Skin inflammation or dermatitis
Poor circulation associated with varicose veins can result in complications,
which include painful blood clots, recurrent skin ulcers or open sores
and bleeding from a burst vein.
“It’s important to look out for symptoms of varicose veins
even when you have no visible signs of them. On rare occasions, they can
develop deep in your leg’s venous network where blood clots can
potentially form. If these clots break off, they can travel to the lung
and cause serious problems such as pulmonary embolism,” Dr. Mao warned.
There are several different treatment options. They range from self-care
measures and compression stockings to procedures that close or remove
the problem vein.
Dr. Mao said, “It’s crucial to distinguish between cosmetic
only verses medically dangerous varicose veins. The best way to do this
is to have an ultrasound, which will help determine the next steps for
Self-care measures. According to Dr. Mao, certain self-care measures can help improve circulation
and the onset of problems. These include:
- Exercising such as bicycling or swimming.
- Avoiding long periods of sitting or standing.
- Rotating your feet at the ankles, extending your legs and contracting the
calf when sitting. Also, avoid crossing your legs.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Elevating your legs at or above heart level three or four times a day for
about 15 minutes.
- Applying essential oils, such as cypress essential oil, to the affected area.
- Consuming an anti-inflammatory diet. This includes one that is high in
fiber and antioxidants — for example, apple cider vinegar and witch
hazel. Natural herbs, such as horse chestnut, bilberry and butcher’s
broom, can potentially help.
Compression stockings. These elastic stockings squeeze the veins and prevent blood from pooling.
Dr. Mao recommends wearing every day a minimum of 20-30 mmHg compression
Traditional treatments. Saline sclerotherapy involves injecting a chemical into the vein so that
it can no longer transport blood. The treatment generally requires more
than one session.
Another traditional treatment is phlebectomy, which is the surgical removal
or stripping of the vein. But like any surgical procedure, it comes with
some risks and requires more recovery time than less invasive varicose
New Minimally Invasive Procedures
Dr. Mao went on to explain how she performs some of the
latest minimally invasive treatment options such as outpatient laser and radiofrequency ablation.
“The problem vein is located with ultrasound, and a tiny catheter
is inserted into the vein. The catheter delivers either laser or radiofrequency
energy directly to the inside wall of the varicose vein, which shrinks
and seals it,” she explained. “The treatment usually lasts
15 to 20 minutes.”
Laser ablation procedures have success rates of greater than 95 percent.
“In order to prevent the recurrence of varicose veins, a combined
treatment of ablation and microphlebectomy should be done at the same
time,” Dr. Mao advised. “Microphlebectomy is the minimally
invasive removal of veins that are just under the surface of the skin.
The incisions are so small that they often don’t require stitches
to close them.”
Dr. Jie Mao has successfully treated more than 500 patients with varicose
veins and has performed over 1,000 ablation procedures. For a varicose
vein consultation, please schedule a pre-ablation ultrasound by calling
303-415-7544. For more information on interventional radiology, call 303-415-7249.
View or download slides from Dr. Mao’s lecture on “Say Goodbye to Varicose Veins.”
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