Before busting the myths related to Varicose Veins, first, let us discuss what are Varicose Veins?
You know that there are 2 types of blood vessels: artery and vein. Arteries carry out the blood from the heart and the Veins carry the blood back to the heart The veins have a series of one-way valves, which ensure that the blood goes back in a single direction, towards the heart. If the valves in the veins of the legs do not work, then the blood will flow back towards the ankles due to gravity. This will enlarge the veins of the legs, and these veins become large and visible. These enlarged veins are called varicose veins.
What are the symptoms of Varicose veins, and when should you consult your doctor?
- If there is swelling in your feet, ankles, or your whole leg.
- If you have a feeling of heaviness or discomfort in your legs.
- If you feel itching in or around your veins or ankle areas.
- If your skin color in your leg is changing or your skin is hardening.
- If you feel throbbing for burning in your legs.
These are the symptoms that warn you of the disease of Varicose veins.
Myth #1: You need not worry about Varicose Veins until it pains or the condition becomes severe, or Varicose Veins are not a problem until they make you feel uneasy.
Often, the patients who have varicose veins think that the problem is not of concern until it starts to cause trouble. However, when you see varicose veins, that’s the sign your leg veins are already in distress, and you should not ignore the fact that not looking into the condition will only make things more severe.
Varicose veins increase in size over some time. Not only that the increased pressure in these veins gives rise to other serious issues, like ankle swelling, pigmentation of the skin, and discomfort and pain in the legs. This discomfort decreases the patients’ activity, leading to weight gain, and further pressure on the already dilated veins. So it is a vicious circle. And we all know that being overweight leads to many more diseases.
Apart from this, large varicose veins allow blood to be stagnant in them for long periods, which can lead to blood clot formation. Such a blood clot can sometimes break off, and travel to the deep veins of the legs, causing Deep Vein Thrombosis. Occasionally the clot can even travel to the lungs, causing a very serious condition called Pulmonary Embolism.
Myth #2: Varicose Veins only occur in women, and men are safe from this problem.
It is a fact that women are more vulnerable to Varicose Veins, but that doesn’t mean that men are safe from this. About 1/3rd of the adults suffer from this disease, and it is not sex-biased.Whether it is a man or a woman, one should not ignore the symptoms because the problems will gradually increase, just as discussed in myth #1, regardless of the sex.
Myth #3: Only the elderly get Varicose veins
While it is true that the majority of patients who develop severe varicose veins are beyond the age of 40, this disease can also affect the young. If the vein valves are weak from birth, Varicose veins can be seen after the age of 15 years. Furthermore, if they develop in younger patients, they are usually under increased pressure due to the strenuous activities usually performed by youngsters. So, they should not be neglected.
Myth #4: Varicose Veins are just a cosmetic problem
Small Varicose veins may be a cosmetic problem. However, many patients with small Spider Veins can have significant pain and burn in the thighs and legs. In many patients with Large varicose veins, there is no pain or discomfort. However, this does not mean that they are harmless. Over some time, these will cause various symptoms in the legs, such as tiredness, pain, and discomfort. They may also cause ankle swelling and dark skin pigmentation around the ankles with wounds called ulcers. Rarely, blood clots that form in varicose veins can travel to the lungs, and cause a life-threatening condition called Pulmonary Embolism. It is important to consult a Vein Specialist to confirm what precautions and treatment you need to do if you have varicose veins.
Myth #5: Nothing can treat Varicose veins
Nowadays, there are many treatment options for Varicose veins, which range from changing your lifestyle habits, some oral medications to surgery. The latest options such as Laser will not require you to undergo open surgery at all.
Remember, with advances in technology, treatment options for Varicose Veins have also evolved. Most of the techniques available nowadays require no cuts or stitches, and usually performed under local anesthesia. Furthermore, most patients can return to their daily routine within 24 hours.
It is always better to get treated earlier in the disease, rather than later when more symptoms have occurred and some permanent changes such as ankle swelling, skin pigmentation, and ulcers have developed. The treatment protocol will remain the same, but you will be left with some permanent problems. Therefore, the earlier the treatment, the better for you.
Oral medications usually work only in the very early stages of varicose veins. The same is true of Compression stockings. They will probably slightly slow the advancement of the disease, but cannot halt it.
Myth #6: If blood clots occur, they will remain in the legs and not travel anywhere else in the body.
Most blood clots that form in the Varicose veins will remain there. However, in some patients, a clot will break off and travel to the lungs, and block an artery of the lung. This condition is called Pulmonary embolism (PE). This is a dangerous condition. Pulmonary Embolism is life-threatening in more than 50% of the patients.
Myth #7: Other than looking bad, there is no issue with Varicose Veins.
When a person is suffering from Varicose veins, the veins start to bulge out of the skin if the condition is severe. These prominent veins can sometimes have a very thin wall, and even a slight scratch or a simple bump from the side of your table can cause severe bleeding. The bleeding is usually quite painless and can occur at night due to sleep when one tends to scratch the affected area. In such cases, significant blood loss can occur, before the problem is detected.
Apart from this, if left untreated, Varicose veins can cause wounds around the ankle called Venous Ulcers. These may take a long time to heal unless the varicose veins are treated properly immediately.
The most common cause of dark skin around the ankles is underlying varicose veins. It is important to realize that many times, varicose veins are not visible, and maybe below the surface. Therefore in all patients with skin changes in the lower legs, a venous ultrasound test should be carried out to diagnose varicose veins.
Myth #8: The treatment for Varicose Veins is very painful.
There several types of treatments that a person chooses for Varicose veins, whether surgical or non-surgical.
In the past traditional open surgery was performed, which usually involved general or spinal anesthesia, and multiple cuts and stitches. Recovery could be painful.
However, the newer methods of treating Varicose veins require no cuts or stitches. Most of these treatments are done under local anesthesia, and the patients are fully conscious during the treatment and talking to their doctors. Post-treatment, there is no rest involved, and the vast majority of patients can resume their normal duties within 24 hours.
Pain is not a significant problem with the newer methods of treatment.
Myth #9: Varicose veins are harmful to pregnant women
Varicose Veins are common during pregnancy. During pregnancy, the enlarged uterus in the abdomen presses on the veins in the abdomen, and as a result, the pressure in the veins in the legs rises. If the vein valves are weak, they start leaking due to the increased pressure, and the blood starts pooling in the legs, causing dilated, enlarged varicose veins. If a person already has varicose veins, the veins will increase in size. The varicose veins may disappear after the baby is born. However, in many ladies, the veins persist. Also, repeated pregnancies lead to more severity of varicose veins.x`
Myth #10: Women should wait until they have children to start the treatment for Varicose veins.
If a lady suffers from Varicose veins and becomes pregnant, there is a good chance that the severity of varicose veins will increase. Not only that, the varicose veins can be quite painful during pregnancy. Sometimes, blood clots can form inside the dilated varicose veins, and these clots can dislodge and travel to the lungs, causing a very serious condition called Pulmonary embolism, which can be harmful, even fatal to the patient. Therefore if you have significant varicose veins, and are planning a pregnancy, do consult your vein doctor, and get the right advice.
Myth #11: Medicines can’t cause varicose veins
The increased use of hormone medications in women, prescribed to help with the Menopause symptoms, or Birth control pills, can cause a condition called Deep Vein Thrombosis. DVT is the formation of blood clots in the Deep Veins of the legs. It is known that one of the long term complications of DVT is Secondary Varicose veins. Some blood pressure medications, medicines for Diabetes, and Steroids can cause significant weight gain. In patients who have weak vein valves, this weight gain combined with the decrease in physical activity will lead to the formation of varicose veins.
Myth #12: Whatever job I do won’t affect my chances of getting varicose veins.
Varicose veins are more commonly seen in some occupations, usually those which require prolonged standing. If you work in the restaurant or hotel industry, are a teacher, policeman, flight attendant, then long-standing hours will cause increased pressure on the veins of your legs. If your vein valves are weak, then these valves will start leaking, and you will develop varicose veins. You must have weak vein valves for developing varicose veins, only prolonged standing is not the only cause ( Otherwise the entire army will have varicose veins.)
Similarly, if you have a sedentary job, which requires you to sit at your desk for long hours, with your legs handing down, it will also contribute to your chances of getting Varicose veins.
When you stand or sit for prolonged periods, there is a pooling of blood in the veins of the legs. However, if you walk every once in a while, the muscle of the calf helps to push the blood upwards towards the heart, emptying the veins of the legs. Therefore it is very important to take a short walk every hour or so, even for 5 minutes.
Myth #13: Varicose veins and Spider veins are the same.
While Varicose veins are bulging blood vessels that are seen and felt on the surface of the skin, Spider veins are tiny red or blue lines that look like branches of a spider on the surface of your skin. Varicose veins cause heaviness, swelling, and a lot of discomfort in your legs and can lead to severe health conditions, like blood clots, whereas spider veins are mostly painless and do not cause swelling health-related problems. However, in some patients, spider veins can be the reason for a lot of burning, pain, or pins and needles like sensation. Spider veins can be treated by a process called Sclerotherapy, a non-surgical method.
Myth #14: One can’t go back to regular life, even after the treatment of varicose veins.
Most patients can go back to doing what they enjoyed after the treatment of their varicose veins.
Many patients have restricted activities because their varicose veins cause heaviness, swelling, and pain in the legs. These problems are taken care of by proper and timely treatment. The legs feel so much lighter after treatment, that patients enjoy walking and running activities.
Almost all gym activities are allowed after treatment. Walking, treadmill exercise, cycling, and swimming are the best activities. Weight lifting is to be avoided, as this may cause a lot of pressure on the legs, and may cause new varicose veins to develop.