Varicose Veins FAQ's
Should I see a doctor about varicose veins?
Remember these important questions when deciding whether to see your doctor: Has the varicose vein become swollen, red, or very tender or warm to the touch? If yes, see your doctor. If no, are there sores or a rash on the leg or near the ankle with the varicose vein, or are there circulation problems in your feet? If yes, see your doctor.
Why do varicose and spider veins usually appear in the legs?
The veins in the legs have the toughest job of carrying blood back to the heart. They endure the most pressure -- pressure that can overcome the strength of these one-way valves. The force of gravity, the pressure from body weight, and the task of carrying the blood from the bottom of the body up to the heart make the legs the primary location for varicose and spider veins.
Are varicose and spider veins painful or dangerous?
Medical treatment usually is not required for varicose or spider veins. However, varicose veins can become quite uncomfortable as well as look unattractive. Varicose veins usually enlarge and worsen over time. They can cause the legs and feet to swell. Although severe leg pain is not common, leg muscles may feel fatigued or heavy, or throb and cramp at night. The skin on the legs and around the ankles also can itch or burn.
In some cases, varicose veins and spider veins can cause more serious problems, and medical treatment will provide benefits. If the veins become severe, they can cause a condition called venous insufficiency which can eventually lead to skin damage and ulcers near the ankle if left untreated. Once these changes develop, they are irreversible and treatment is aimed at trying to control the symptoms.
Varicose veins can also lead to a condition called "superficial thrombophlebitis" which is inflammation of these veins secondary to thrombosis (clotting of the veins). In this condition, the veins become painful and swollen and if the clot spreads up towards the upper thigh, it can lead to a deep-venous thrombosis (DVT). DVT's can be very dangerous because of the possibility of the clot dislodging and travelling from the legs to the lungs, where it may block the heart and lungs from functioning properly.
Varciose veins can also cause profuse haemorrhage (bleeding) secondary to minor trauma or scratching (specially considering the fact that some varicose veins can become very itchy). Since there is usually no pain associated with the bleeding, patients may not notice the bleeding until large amounts of blood have been lost. Once detected, patients should apply strong pressure to the bleeding vein and consult a doctor straight away.
Can varicose and spider veins return even after treatment?
Current treatments for varicose veins and spider veins have very high success rates. Although it is uncommon, these veins can return after treatment. One reason may be hidden areas in the body where there is a lot of pressure on the veins. This pressure may cause new spider veins. Doctors can diagnose this with ultrasound. Another cause may be new re-growth of vein branches. Doctors have found that tiny vein branches can grow through scar tissue to connect to both deep and superficial veins even after surgery.
Non-invasive Vascular Ultrasound
Circulation (Vascular) Ultrasound provides your doctor with moving images of your circulatory system (arteries and veins), and takes excellent pictures that will help your doctor to evaluate your circulation’s health. A specially trained technician (Sonographer) will use a gel to slide a microphone-like device called a transducer over your body. Reflected sound waves will provide images of your veins and arteries. Circulation (Vascular) Ultrasound uses the same technology that allows doctors to see an unborn baby inside the pregnant mother. In some cases, a special dye may need to be injected into the vein to help enhance the images so that your doctor can better evaluate the health of your circulatory system. This ultrasound does not involve radiation.
Ultrasound uses the same technology that allows doctors to see an unborn baby inside a pregnant mother. No radiation is involved in heart ultrasound, and the technology can be used on people of all ages.
Aortic Aneurysm and Dissection
An aortic aneurysm is an enlargement or bulging of the aorta. The aorta is the large artery into which blood is pumped from the heart. It is normally about the size of a garden hose. It travels from the chest to the legs, giving off branches that supply all the organs of the body, finally dividing into the two large branches that supply the legs. Aneurysms usually develop in a section of the aorta, often starting as a small enlargement that grows with time. Aneurysms can occur in any part of the aorta. Aneurysms can cause symptoms such as pain, can contain blood clots and can leak and rupture, often suddenly. Most aneurysm, however, will not cause symptoms until they leak or rupture, a surgical emergency. Aneurysms in the chest are called thoracic aneurysms. Type A thoracic aneurysms involve the first (or ascending) part of the aorta. Type B thoracic aneurysms involve the part of the aorta that curves down toward the abdomen (the descending thoracic aorta) . Abdominal aortic aneurysms are in the aorta of the abdomen. The risk factors for developing an aneurysms are essentially the same as those for developing atherosclerosis of the arteries (fatty, cholesterol containing blockages) and include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and a family history of aneurysms, particularly involving the abdomen.
Aortic Valve Regurgitation
Aortic valve regurgitation results from the abnormal closure of the aortic valve. The aortic valve normally opens to allow blood to flow out of the heart and closes to prevent blood from flowing back into the heart when the heart “relaxes”. If the valve does not close tightly, some of the blood that was just pumped out of the heart leaks backwards as the heart relaxes and fills.
Atherosclerosis is a build-up of fat, cholesterol, minerals, blood and muscle cells which cause narrowing within the arterial walls known as “plaque.” Atherosclerosis can occur in any artery within the body but is most commonly referred as PAD when it is in the legs or less commonly the arms. Doppler ultrasound is a test that uses sound waves to show whether a blood vessel is blocked and includes imaging of the arteries. Waveforms recoded with the Doppler ultrasound can help indicate the location and the severity of the disease.
Atrial Septal Defect
Atrial septal defect (ASD) is an abnormal opening in the septum, or wall, that separates the right and left atria. It allows oxygen-rich blood to flow from the left atrium into the oxygen-poor blood of the right atrium. This causes increased blood volume in the right heart. Increased volume causes enlargement of both atria, the right ventricle, and the pulmonary artery. There are several types of ASDs, the mid atrial septal defect (secundum) is most common.
Ventricular Septal Defect
Ventricular septal defect, or VSD, is a hole in the septum that separates the right and left ventricles of the heart. This defect causes blood from the higher pressure left ventricle to be pushed into the right ventricle of the heart. If the defect is large, there will be abnormally high blood pressures in the right ventricle and the pulmonary arteries.
Vascular ultrasound is a test that makes pictures of the blood vessels using harmless sound waves. Clots in the blood vessels of the legs, arms, abdomen, aorta, neck can be easily seen using ultrasound.
Common Heart Problems
Sudden cardiac arrest, heart attack, heart failure, heart valve disease- these are all terms that are common to problems with the heart. The normal heart has arteries, muscle, valves and conductive tissue. These parts act as the plumbing, mechanical, electrical, valves systems of the heart that keep the heart beating normally. Problems with these systems include heart attack, heart failure, sudden cardiac arrest, and heart valve disease. Rollover the buttons to view the differences between these problems and the system of the heart that they effect.
Common Vascular Problems
The vascular (circulatory) system is made up of blood vessels called arteries and veins. Arteries carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the body. Blood is pushed through the arteries by pressure created by the heart’s beating. Veins carry deoxygenated blood back to the heart. Veins have valves that prevent blood from flowing backwards. Blood flow is slower than in the arteries. The contractions of surrounding muscles help keep the blood moving forward.
There are some common problems that can occur with the blood vessels. These problems include high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, aneurysm, embolism, varicose veins, and thrombosis.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition in which blood pressure levels are measure above the normal ranges. Blood pressure is the force of the blood in your arteries. Your blood pressure is high if it is 140/90 or higher.
Atherosclerosis is a disease that affects the arteries. It is caused by fatty deposits that begin within the blood vessel wall and eventually progress to cause narrowing of the blood vessel itself. Severe narrowing can stop blood flow.
An aneurysm is caused by a weakened area in a blood vessel wall. This causes the wall to balloon outward. As the aneurysm becomes larger, the wall becomes weaker and the blood vessel may break open (rupture).
An embolism is a blood clot that has traveled to another place in the body. These blood clots most commonly form in the veins of the legs. The clots can lodge in smaller arteries, stopping blood flow.
Varicose veins occur when the valves in a veins do not work properly. As a result, blood pools in the veins and causes the veins to become swollen and twisted. Most commonly, varicose veins occur in the legs.
A thrombosis is a blood clot that has formed inside a blood vessel. Most commonly they can occur in the veins of the leg (deep vein thrombosis). They can sometimes form in arteries. These blood clots can break off and travel through the blood (embolism).
Information on Vascular Diseases
Click on the topics below to find out more about common vascular conditions from American Society of Vascular Surgeons website.
- Aortic Aneurysm
- Aortoiliac Disease
- Arm Artery Disease
- Carotid Disease
- Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
- Diabetic Problems
- Leg Artery Disease
- Mesenteric Ischemia
- Peripheral Aneurysms
- Pulmonary Embolism
- Renovascular Conditions
- Thoracic Aneurysm
- Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
- Varicose Veins
- Venous Insufficiency
Treatment & Procedures
Click on the topics below to find out more about common vascular procedures and treatments from American Society of Vascular Surgeons website.