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Varicose Veins: 5 Facts Everyone Should Know

Pesky, puffy and sometimes painful, varicose veins affect half of all Americans over the age of 50. For the most part, they don’t cause medical problems; but when they do, there are many treatment options.

However, a growing number of insurance companies now require members to have their venous treatment procedures at vein centers that have been accredited by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission (IAC).

The Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery in the CardioVascular Institute (CVI) at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is home to one of these accredited vein centers. It’s one of the few groups in the Boston area to gain recognition and accreditation by meeting or exceeding the IAC’s high standards for quality and safety.

Varicose Veins 101

As common as varicose veins are, people still have many misconceptions about them. It’s time to separate fact from fiction! Here are the five things you need to know about varicose veins:

1. What are Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins are swollen veins that bulge out from the surface of your skin. They can be red, blue or flesh-colored. They’re most often found on your legs. People often confuse varicose veins with spider veins; spider veins are usually much smaller and closer to the surface of the skin.

2. What Causes Varicose Veins?

Veins carry blood from all over your body back to your heart, and they have one-way valves that help keep the blood flowing in the right direction. If these valves are weak or damaged, the blood backs up and pools in your veins. This causes the veins to swell. Over time, this swelling can cause varicose veins.

3. Are You at Risk for Varicose Veins?

There are many factors that increase your risk of developing varicose veins.

  • Family history: Half of all people with varicose veins have other family members with the condition.
  • Age: The risk of varicose veins increases with age. The older you are, the more likely that the valves in your veins will weaken and not work as well.
  • Gender: Women get varicose veins more often than men. This is likely due to hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy and menopause, or from the use of birth control pills.
  • Pregnancy: Those extra pregnancy pounds can do a number on your veins. Fortunately, pregnancy-related varicose veins usually clear up within three to 12 months after delivery.
  • Body weight: Being overweight or obese strains your veins.
  • Leg trauma: If you’ve previously had blood clots or any kind of damage to the valves in your veins, they may not be able to move blood back to your heart very well.

4. What Can You Do if You Have Varicose Veins?

Varicose vein treatments have three main goals: to relieve symptoms, prevent complications and improve appearance. Most people start by making lifestyle changes:

  • Reducing the amount of time that they stand or sit
  • Wearing compression stockings
  • Wearing low-heeled shoes to tone the calf muscles
  • Losing weight if they need to
  • Exercising to move blood through the veins and improve muscle tone
  • Elevating your feet and legs above the heart periodically

Simple strategies like these offer relief for many varicose vein sufferers.

Patients can develop complications from varicose veins that may include painful clots (phlebitis). Infrequently, a more severe form of venous insufficiency can lead to deep blood clots, ulcers, sores, and fluid buildup (edema).

5. What are my Other Treatment Options?

If you’ve tried lifestyle changes for varicose veins without much relief, there are several medical procedures that can help. Those available in the CVI’s Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery include:

  • Sclerotherapy and Veinwave: These procedures lead to either chemical- or heat-related irritation that eventually closes off the vein, which then fades away.
  • Radiofrequency ablation (Venefit): A catheter is used to apply radiofrequency energy to shrink and close the varicose vein. Most patients can resume normal activity in just one day.
  • Ambulatory phlebectomy: Your doctor makes small cuts in your skin and removes the varicose veins that are closest to the skin’s surface.
  • Vein stripping and ligation: Used only for the most severe cases. Your doctor makes small cuts in your skin, removes veins and ties others closed.

No matter which medical procedure you choose, it’s a good idea to have it done at an accredited Vein Center, like the one at the CVI. When you choose an accredited vein center, you’ll have less worry about insurance coverage. Plus, you’ll know that the care you receive meets or exceeds the national standard of excellence in vein care, wound care and vascular ultrasound testing.

Above content provided by the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.