What is vein disease?
Veins are the blood vessels that return blood to the heart from the body. To overcome the force of gravity, inside the veins are one-way valves which open to allow blood flow to the heart, and close to prevent “reflux” of blood back to the body. When these valves fail to function, or if there is damage to the vein so the valves do not completely close, blood can begin to pool in the vein and cause a variety of vein complications.
What Causes Vein Disease?
The single most important cause of vein disease is heredity. Approximately 70% of all patients with varicose veins have parents with the same condition. Pregnancy, especially multiple pregnancies, is a contributing cause of vein disease. Other factors influencing vein disease are age, obesity, and jobs which require long periods of standing.
Symptoms of Vein Disease
Fortunately, most vein diseases can be seen by looking at the size and color of the vein at the surface of the skin. In some cases, however, the diseased vein may be deeper in the body and not visible through the skin. As a result, paying close attention to other symptoms is important in diagnosing vein disease. Many patients with vein disease experience the following:
- Soreness or “tired” or “restless” legs, especially in the calf muscles.
If you experience these symptoms, your physician can quickly and easily perform a test to determine if you have vein disease.
types of vein disease
Spider veins are the small, thread-like colored veins that are most often seen on the surface of the skin. While many people seek treatment for spider veins for cosmetic reasons, spider veins also can result in substantial discomfort requiring therapy.
Varicose veins are the large, “rope-like” veins which are often 1/4″ or larger in diameter. Generally, varicose veins grow in size over time and can result in substantial pain and complications if not treated.
What can happen if varicose veins are left untreated?
Varicose veins generally worsen over time. Initially, the patient will feel slight pain and restlessness in the diseased leg. If untreated, this pain will increase and result in limitations in walking and cramps during sleeping. Eventually, varicose veins can lead to open sores on the foot, blood clots, and tissue loss.
Varicose Vein Treatment Options
Depending on the type and stage of vein disease, there are many different treatments. Your physician can explain all of the options. The following are common treatments Dr. Albright and Dr. Dixon perform to help treat vein disease:
- Compressions Stockings
- Surgical Stripping
- Endovenous Laser Therapy
For minor pain from varicose veins, a compression stocking may be beneficial. The compression stocking will assist the leg in the pumping of blood back to the heart. While this may relieve the vein disease symptoms, compression stockings will not make the varicose veins go away.
Commonly used for spider veins and small varicose veins, sclerotherapy involves injecting a small volume of a liquid into the diseased vein. The sclerosing liquid acts upon the lining of the vein to cause it to seal shut, eliminating the vein completely. Sclerotherapy is quickly performed in a physician’s office and no anesthesia is required.
Historically, the only treatment for large varicose veins has been to surgically remove or ‘strip’ the vein from the body. Surgical stripping is done in an operating room under anesthesia and requires a considerable recovery period for the patient. More recently, a modified version of stripping known as ambulatory phlebectomy has grown in use. In this version of surgical stripping, multiple incisions are made to hook and remove the vein one portion at a time. More incisions are made than in standard vein stripping, but the damage to the leg and post-surgery recovery time are minimized.
Endovenous Laser Therapy
In the last few years, the use of lasers has become an accepted alternative to surgical stripping to treat varicose veins. In endovenous laser therapy, we insert a thin laser fiber into the diseased vein, generally through a small puncture in the leg above where the visual symptoms appear. The physician then delivers laser energy through the fiber which causes the vein to close as the fiber is gradually removed. Endovenous laser therapy can be performed in a physician’s office in less than one hour, and the patient is encouraged to walk immediately following the procedure.
Vein Treatment Side Effects
Fortunately, sclerotherapy and endovenous laser therapy have rarely been associated with any serious complications when properly performed. Common minor complications of these procedures include bruising, mild itching, tingling, tenderness and tightness in the treated leg for up to two weeks after the treatment.
Who is Not a Good Candidate For Vein Treatment?
The following type of patients are not good candidates for vein treatment:
- Recent pregnancy (at least 3 months)
- You just had major surgery
- Patients with deep vein thrombosis
- Inability to ambulate
Will insurance cover the treatment?
Many insurance companies cover the treatment of vein disease that we associate with substantial pain and other complications, but individual insurance companies may limit the types of therapy that they cover.