Varicose Veins / Leg Veins

Abnormal Leg Veins

Dilated, unsightly leg veins are a common problem.  The three most common types of abnormal veins are spider veins, reticular veins and varicose veins – and these are often seen in combination. Spider veins sit close to the surface of the skin, they are usually red or blue in colour and present as fine, jagged lines.  Spider veins are fed by larger reticular veins that sit further under the skin.  Varicose Veins are the largest of the three.  Red, blue or flesh coloured they look like twisted cords, and are usually found running down the legs; they are caused most often by a weakness in the vein wall.


Do Dilated Leg Veins have any Adverse Effects on the Body?

Depending on the size, extent and degree of weakness of larger abnormal veins they can cause problems far beyond simple aesthetics. Symptoms may include burning, aching, stinging, throbbing, a feeling of heaviness and cramps. Skin changes may also occur leading to a patchy darkening in color, eczema, swelling, induration (hardening) of the skin, and even ulceration of the skin – which is difficult to heal.


Why do Abnormal Veins Develop?

While a definitive cause for abnormal veins is not known, there are believed to be many contributing factors.  Genetics is one; a strong family history suggests some people inherit veins that are simply more likely to deteriorate.  In women, estrogens may play a role at the onset of puberty and pregnancy; taking oral contraceptive pills can also give rise to vein abnormalities. During pregnancy, the enlarged uterus can restrict blood flowing from the legs and promote the development of varicose veins. Some occupations involving prolonged periods of standing also tend to increase the likelihood of dilated veins developing. Bone fractures and soft tissue traumas can cause localized vein abnormalities.  And finally, both varicose and spider veins are associated with obesity.


How do Abnormal Veins Develop?

The blood in leg veins normally travels upwards towards the heart but due to gravity, blood tries to flow back down towards the feet. Normal veins have one-way valves, which close to prevent this back-flow of blood.  The breakdown of these valves leads to an abnormal flow, increasing pressure in the vein and causing the vein wall to expand and bulge, producing varicose veins. The build up of back-pressure can then cause the formation of reticular and spider veins. Varicose veins serve no useful function in the body’s circulation, and our body has the ability to establish alternative pathways to bypass the abnormal varicose veins. When varicose veins are closed down the circulatory system improves, as do many of the symptoms. It is important to note varicose veins can be a progressive condition with totally new veins developing over time.


Can Vein Problems be Prevented?

For those prone to vein problems it is advisable to follow a healthy diet and lifestyle, in order to maintain a normal weight. Regular exercise will also minimize the likelihood of further problems. Avoid standing for long periods of time, and wear specialized venous support stockings to ease symptoms and slow the progression of abnormal veins.


What Treatment Options are there for Abnormal Veins?

Spider veins can be successfully treated with injection sclerotherapy.  Sclerotherapy involves injecting a solution called a “sclerosant” directly into the vessels that need to be destroyed. The solution irritates the lining of the vessel causing it to swell, bind and clot the blood. Over a period of weeks, the vessel turns into scar tissue that gradually fades, eventually becoming barely noticeable.

Historically for varicose veins surgery was the only method of treatment.  Today however, there is a range of non-surgical methods on offer, including sclerotherapy, that are simpler and far less complicated than surgery.


Non-surgical Treatments for Abnormal Veins

There are three main treatment methods available for problematic veins.  (Some patients will requite a combination of these to achieve best results.)

  • Injection Microsclerotherapy – reserved for the treatment of small veins including spider veins.
  • Ultrasound Guided Sclerotherapy (UGS) – reserved for the treatment of medium sized veins, bulging varicose veins and some hidden veins.
  • Endovenous Laser Therapy (EVLT) – for large hidden varicose veins.
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