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Vein Center FAQs
It can be confusing to understanding varicose veins symptoms and treatments and, even more specific, which treatment is right for you.
To help, Wake Radiology has created a list of frequently asked questions about varicose veins. We’re also happy to review your specific symptoms and concerns. Simply schedule a vein consultation with us today.
- What is the difference between varicose veins and spider veins?
- What causes varicose veins and spider veins?
- How common are abnormal leg veins?
- What factors increase my risk of varicose veins and spider veins?
- Why do varicose veins and spider veins usually appear in the legs?
- What are signs for varicose veins?
- Are spider veins or varicose veins dangerous to my overall heath?
- Should I see a physician at Wake Radiology about varicose veins?
- What is involved in a vein consult? What can I expect?
- How are varicose and spider veins treated?
- How can I prevent varicose veins and spider veins?
- Can varicose veins return even after treatment?
Varicose veins are enlarged veins that are visible through the skin and often look like cords and appear twisted and bulging. They can be blue, red, or flesh-colored and the veins themselves can be swollen and raised above the skin’s surface. Varicose veins are most commonly found on the thighs, backs of the calves, or the inside of the leg, but can occur anywhere. During pregnancy, varicose veins can form around the vagina and buttocks.
Spider veins are actually a more mild form of varicose veins and get their name from their “spider web” look. Resembling short, jagged lines, they are closer to the skin’s surface and are typically red or blue. They can be found on the legs and face and can cover either a very small or very large area of skin.
Varicose veins can be caused by weak or damaged valves in the veins.
The heart pumps blood filled with oxygen and nutrients to the whole body through the arteries. Veins then carry the blood from the body back to the heart. As your leg muscles squeeze, they push blood back to the heart from your lower body against the flow of gravity.
Veins have valves that act as one-way flaps to prevent blood from flowing down your legs in the wrong direction. If the valves become weak, blood can leak down your legs in the wrong direction and be the source of varicose veins. This problem is called venous insufficiency.
Spider veins can be caused by the backup of blood. They can also be caused by hormone changes, exposure to the sun, and injuries.
What factors increase my risk of varicose veins and spider veins?
- Increasing age. As you get older, the valves in your veins may weaken and not work as well.
- Medical history. Having family members with vein problems also increases your risk. About half of all people who have varicose veins have a family member who also has them.
- Hormonal changes. Normal changes that occur during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause can trigger spider and varicose veins. Taking birth control pills and other medicines containing estrogen and progesterone also may contribute.
- During pregnancy, hormone changes as well as the growing uterus can put on veins. Typically, veins improve within three months after delivery. More varicose veins and spider veins can appear during each additional pregnancy.
- Being overweight or obese can put extra pressure on your veins. This can lead to varicose veins.
- Lack of movement. Sitting or standing for a long time can make it harder for veins to pump blood to your heart. Sitting with your legs bent or crossed adds to this problem.
- Sun exposure. This can cause spider veins on the cheeks or nose of a fair-skinned person.
Leg veins are some of the hardest working veins in your body. They have the toughest job – and endure the most pressure – when carrying blood back to your heart. This pressure stresses the one-way values in the veins.
Common symptoms for varicose veins include:
- Aching pain that may get worse after a long period of sitting or standing
- Throbbing or cramping
- Heavy legs or excessive swelling
- Rash that’s itchy or irritated
- Restless legs
- Leg ulcers in extreme cases
- Darkening of the skin (in severe cases)
Spider veins rarely poise a serious health problem. More often, they cause uncomfortable feelings like itching or burning. They can, however, be an indicator for varicose veins and appear first or in conjunction with varicose veins.
Initially, varicose veins may not cause any problems, but can be associated with aching pain, throbbing, and discomfort. They can lead to more serious health problems:
- Sores or skin ulcers due to a long-term back up of blood in a centralized area. These sores or ulcers are painful and hard to heal. Sometimes they cannot heal until the backward blood flow in the vein is alleviated.
- Excessive bleeding can occur when the skin over the veins becomes thin and easily injured.
- A superficial thrombophlebitis can form. This is a blood clot in a vein just below the skin. Symptoms include skin redness, a firm, tender and warm vein as well as pain and swelling.
You should see a doctor about varicose veins if:
- Your leg symptoms are interfering with daily activities
- The appearance of the veins causes you distress
- The vein has become swollen, red, very tender or warm to the touch
- There are sores or a rash on the leg or near the ankle
- The skin on the ankle and calf becomes thick and changes color
- One of the varicose veins begins to bleed
If you’re having pain, even just a dull ache, don’t hesitate to request a vein consultation with Wake Radiology. If immediate steps to treat the veins are unnecessary, our sub-specialty trained physicians can explain how you can prevent them from getting worse.
A Wake Radiology physician will diagnose your varicose veins based on a physical exam.
Your doctor will look at your legs while you’re standing and while you’re sitting with your legs dangling off the exam table. You’ll be asked to share your symptoms, including any pain you’re having. Sometimes, our physicians may use other tests to assess the extent of your problem and to rule out other disorders.
While not typically done immediately, an ultrasound can be used to see your veins’ structure, check the blood flow in your legs, and look for blood clots.
Varicose veins can be effectively treated with both lifestyle changes and medical treatments.
For mild symptoms, conservative measures can make a big difference in how your legs feel:
- Over-the-counter non-steroid medications
- Changes in activity like reducing the time spent standing or sitting.
The treatments above can improve symptoms and reduce pain, but do not change the leg’s appearance.
For more severe symptoms, your doctor may recommend medical treatments.
- Endovenous techniques (radiofrequency and laser)
- Ambulatory phlebectomy
Unfortunately, not all varicose and spider veins can be prevented. There are some steps you can take to reduce your chances of getting new varicose and spider veins. These same things can help ease discomfort from the ones you already have:
- Wear sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun and to limit spider veins on the face.
- Exercise regularly to improve your leg strength, circulation, and vein strength. Focus on exercises that work your legs, such as walking or running.
- Control your weight to avoid placing too much pressure on your legs.
- Don’t cross your legs for long periods of time when sitting. It’s possible to injure your legs that way, and even a minor injury can increase the risk of varicose veins.
- Elevate your legs when resting as much as possible.
- Don’t stand or sit for long periods of time. If you must stand for a long time, shift your weight from one leg to the other every few minutes. If you must sit for long periods of time, stand up and move around or take a short walk every 30 minutes.
- Wear elastic support stockings or true compression garments and avoid tight clothing that constricts your waist, groin, or legs.
- Avoid wearing high heels for long periods of time. Lower-heeled shoes can help tone your calf muscles to help blood move through your veins.
- Eat a low-salt diet that is rich in high-fiber foods. Eating fiber reduces the chances of constipation which can contribute to varicose veins. Eating less salt can help with the swelling that comes with varicose veins. High-fiber foods include fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, like bran.
Current treatments for varicose veins and spider veins have very high success rates compared to traditional surgical treatments. Over a period of years, however, more abnormal veins can develop because there is no cure for weak vein valves.
Another way to think about this is that varicose veins can be compared to getting a cavity in your tooth. While you treat one cavity, you must continue to brush to avoid future cavities.
The single most important thing you can do to slow down the development of new varicose veins is to wear gradient compression support stockings as much as possible during the day.
As a medical option, an ultrasound can easily evaluate whether additional leaky valves have developed. Ongoing treatment can help keep painful varicose veins under control.