Ever second-guess wearing your favorite little black dress because you are too self-conscious about your veins? Many women have. 30 million Americans suffer from varicose veins, but less than 10 percent seek medical attention. If left untreated, they can lead to the serious medical condition, Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI). If you have varicose veins, now is the time to address the issue, so you can be skirt-ready by spring. We caught up with Dr. Julianne Stoughton, who runs the Vein Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, to learn more about how to deal with these health-threatening varicose veins now.
Real Beauty: What exactly are varicose veins?
Dr. Julianne Stoughton: Enlarged veins on the legs that are often raised above the skin. They can be blue, red, or flesh-colored, and occur when the valves in the leg veins no longer function, resulting in blood pooling in the legs.
RB: What is CVI?
DJS: If left untreated, varicose veins can progress into CVI, a condition that worsens over time, affecting the veins and vessels in the leg that carry oxygen-poor blood back to the heart. CVI can cause pain, swelling, and fatigue of the legs, as well as skin damage, and ulcers in more severe cases.
RB: How can someone tell the difference between spider veins and potentially health-threatening varicose veins?
DJS: Spider veins, which are much less threatening, are damaged veins that are similar to varicose veins, only thinner. They can cover the legs and even the face, are red or blue, and look like thin spider webs. Unlike varicose veins, they are typically not raised above the skin's surface.
RB: Why does this condition affect more women than men?
DJS: Women are 2 to 3 times more likely than men to develop varicose veins—primarily due to pregnancy. Veins often become inflamed during pregnancy because of increased pressure from the uterus on the large vein that carries blood back to the heart from the feet and legs. When these vein valves are damaged, the blood flows backwards, causing swelling and engorgement.
RB: Other than pregnancy, what can cause of varicose veins?
DJS: Your chances for developing varicose veins are higher if they are in your family history, you are over the age of 50, you don't exercise, have to stand for long periods of time, or are over-weight.
RB: Are there ways to prevent them?
DJS: Varicose veins cannot always be prevented, but elevating your feet above the thighs when sitting and above the heart when lying down, avoiding clothes that are tight around the waist, thighs, or legs, and strengthening the calf muscles can all help.
RB: What are some of the symptoms?
DJS: Signs and symptoms of varicose veins include an achy or heavy feeling in the legs, swelling or throbbing, worsened pain after sitting or standing for a long period of time, itching around the veins, and skin ulcers near your ankles in extreme cases.
RB: Do varicose veins always require medical attention?
DJS: If left untreated, all varicose veins have the potential to progress into CVI. When vein stripping used to be the only treatment option available, many physicians—myself included—discouraged treatment because of the poor results. However, there are now advanced, minimally invasive treatments on the market that allow for a short, comfortable recovery, and a quick return to everyday activities.
Visit www.RethinkVaricoseVeins.com to learn more.