What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins can be a problem both medically and cosmetically. Varicose veins are best described as enlarged veins that can be blue, red, or flesh-colored; and often look like cords that appear twisted and bulging. They can be swollen and raised above the surface of the skin. Varicose veins are often found on the thighs, backs of the calves, the inside of the leg, and the ankles.

What causes varicose veins?

This question is best answered in two parts: 1) conditions that predispose someone to develop varicose veins, and 2) the actual structural abnormality that results in the development of varicose veins.

Predisposing conditions

  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop the condition, as female hormones tend to relax vein walls.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnancy increases the volume of blood in your body, but decreases the flow of blood from your legs to your pelvis. This circulatory change is designed to support the growing fetus, but it can also produce an unfortunate side effect—enlarged veins in your legs. Changes in your hormones during pregnancy may also play a role.
  • Heredity: If other family members have varicose veins, there’s a greater chance you will too.
  • Obesity: Being overweight puts added pressure on your veins.
  • Increasing Age: As you get older, the valves in your veins may weaken and not work as well.
  • Lack of movement: Sitting or standing for long periods of time may force your veins to work harder to pump blood to your heart.

Abnormal valves

Abnormal vein There are a number of veins in the lower leg that may have damaged venous valves. The most common places for this to happen are the great saphenous vein, which starts in the groin and runs down the inside of the leg; and the small saphenous vein, which is located in the back of the lower leg.

To understand how bad venous valves cause varicose veins, it is important to understand how good venous valves perform. The illustration on the right demonstrates how a venous valve functions. The flexible membranes that make up the valves allow the valve leaflets to collapse against the wall when blood is flowing toward the heart. However, if the blood flow is reversed, the valve leaflets expand and close the vein to any further blood flow.

Damaged venous valves allow the blood to flow in both directions. Normally, movement in the leg causes blood in the leg veins to flow upward toward the heart. If the venous valves are injured, blood will flow in the wrong direction—from the abdomen down into the lower leg when the leg muscles are not being used.

How are varicose veins treated?

At Willamette Vein Centré we use a diversified approach in the treatment of diseased veins, depending upon their location and size. All treatment begins with a thorough ultrasound examination of the diseased veins, and may include surgical microphlebectomies, ultrasound guided sclerotherapy, surface sclerotherapy, and thermal ablation of larger veins. An occasional patient will require a more advanced procedure known as “vein stenting.” More recent advances include treatment with laser and radiofrequency devices. A more detailed description of the procedures that we perform may be found in the TREATMENTS section.

Contrary to what many advertisements claim, varicose veins cannot be treated with vitamin supplements, lotions, or homeopathic medications.