If you think the worst thing about having varicose veins is how they look, you are wrong. Varicose veins are much more than just a cosmetic issue; they are an indication that much more could be taking place below the surface.
RiverView General Surgeons Dr. Huy Nguyen and Dr. Brett Vibeto now offer treatment for varicose veins at RiverView Health.
Varicose veins are bulging, twisted veins that can be seen and felt right under the skin. They commonly occur on the legs, as standing and walking increase the pressure in the veins of your lower body. Varicose veins develop when faulty valves in the veins allow blood to flow in the wrong direction or to pool.
Sometimes these veins are just a cosmetic issue, which is most often the case with spider veins. Spider veins are smaller versions of varicose veins that appear as red or blue lines in a webbed pattern. Varicose veins and spider veins differ, mainly because varicose veins – usually blue or dark purple in appearance - can lead to more serious health problems. In addition, if your varicose veins are painful, it is important that you do not ignore them.
According to the American College of Phlebology, an estimated 40 million people in the United States are affected by varicose veins. All ages, genders, and racial groups suffer from varicose veins, but women are more likely to have them than men. It is estimated that 50 percent of American women have varicose veins or a related venous disorder. Varicose veins are more likely to occur in older women. In addition, as women age, varicose veins become more visibly pronounced.
While Dr. Nguyen says dealing with varicose veins may be cosmetic for some patients, most of the time, these problematic veins are related to symptoms of swelling, leg fatigue, and sometimes even chronic ulcers.
Painful varicose veins can be a sign of a more severe problem, such as a blood clot, an open sore/skin ulcer, or a skin infection. Painful varicose veins can get worse, and as they worsen, you can develop new complications as a result.
Dangers to be aware of if you do not treat varicose veins include:
- Leg Swelling – As pressure builds within the veins, fluid from the blood can leak into the surrounding tissues, causing swelling. The skin may even leak a clear or yellowish fluid.
- Skin Ulcers – Varicose veins can cause swelling, which over time can result in skin changes. When this occurs, skin can become less likely to heal from even minor injuries resulting in skin ulcers. Living with skin ulcers compromises quality of life. Due to pain, mobility limitations, and other consequences, skin ulcers have a significant impact on patients, including increased rates of depression.
- Skin Infection – When the tissues are stretched from swelling, this interferes with the body's natural defense against infection. Bacteria usually present on our skin can get into the body, causing a skin infection called cellulitis.
- Bleeding – There is a larger than normal amount of blood in varicose veins, sitting right below the skin's surface. If the vein is hit or cut, there can be a significant amount of bleeding. It can also take longer than usual for bleeding to stop if the injury is substantial.
- Thrombophlebitis – This occurs when a blood clot forms in the leg. Signs of a blood clot in the leg are pain, swelling, tenderness, warmth, and restlessness.
- Deep Vein Thrombosis – Occasionally, in about 25% of people who develop blood clots in varicose veins, the clots will form in deeper veins. Deep vein thrombosis is a serious medical condition that requires immediate medical treatment. The biggest risk is that part or all of the blood clot may break off and move to the lungs, causing a life-threatening condition called pulmonary embolism.
Treatment is Available
The good news is that there are several minimally invasive treatments for varicose veins. Discomfort after treatment is minimal, and most patients see immediate relief of symptoms with little downtime.
At RiverView, Drs. Nguyen and Vibeto offer vein ablation and phlebectomy services.
Radiofrequency Ablation is done through a small incision made either above or below the knee. With the help of an ultrasound scan, a narrow tube (catheter) is threaded into the vein. The provider inserts a probe into the catheter, which emits radiofrequency energy. The radiofrequency energy heats up the vein, causing its walls to collapse, effectively closing it and sealing it shut. This procedure is preferred for more prominent varicose veins. Radiofrequency ablation is usually done with a local anesthetic.
Phlebectomy is a procedure that uses a small scalpel or needle to remove varicose veins that lie just beneath the surface of the leg. A series of small incisions are made in the skin next to the enlarged vein. The incisions are so small stitches are not needed. A phlebectomy hook is inserted under the skin's surface to remove the varicose vein through the tiny incision. This procedure is usually done using a local anesthetic and requires little to no special preparation.
If you are suffering from varicose veins, ask your provider about these services or make an appointment with Dr. Nguyen or Dr. Vibeto to go over your treatment options. Call RiverView Clinic – Crookston at 281.9595 to schedule an appointment.
Dr. Huy Nguyen (left) and Dr. Brett Vibeto