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Treating Varicose Veins

Good news! You don’t have to live with varicose veins if they bother you. There are several treatment options that can relieve the pain caused by varicose veins and improve their appearance, says Alex Powell, M.D., interventional radiologist and medical director of Interventional Radiology at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute at Baptist Hospital.

Varicose veins and spider veins affect about 50 percent of people age 50 years and older, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Advancing age increases your risk of developing them. Other risk factors include a family history, obesity, hormonal changes, pregnancy, lack of physical activity and sun exposure.

Causes

Dr. Powell explains that most varicose and spider veins appear in the lower legs due to the pressure of body weight, the force of gravity and the tough job these veins have to carry blood back to the heart. Varicose veins can be caused by weak or damaged valves in the veins. A weak valve allows blood to leak back into the vein and pool, making the vein bulge and twist down the leg.

Varicose veins may not cause any problems for some people, but others experience aching pain, throbbing and discomfort. Depending on your symptoms, varicose veins can be treated with lifestyle changes and medical procedures, Dr. Powell says.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can reduce pain, prevent varicose veins from getting worse and delay other ones from forming. The National Institutes of Health recommends that you take these steps:

•    Exercise regularly to improve your leg strength, circulation and vein strength. Activities that work your legs, such as walking or jogging, are good choices.
•    Control your weight to avoid placing too much pressure on your veins.
•    Avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time without moving around.
•    Avoid crossing your legs when sitting.
•    Elevate your legs as much as you can when sitting or resting.
•    Wear compression stockings, which apply gentle pressure to keep blood from pooling and decrease swelling.
•    Avoid tight clothing that constricts your waist, groin or legs.
•    Wear lower-heeled shoes instead of high heels to help tone your calf muscles and move blood through your veins.
•    Eat a low-salt diet rich in high-fiber foods to help prevent swelling.
•    Wear sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun and limit spider veins on the face.

If your varicose veins cause symptoms that interfere with daily activities, their appearance distresses you or you have severe symptoms such as bleeding, sores, skin ulcers or severe swelling, Dr. Powell advises you to seek medical treatment.

Medical Treatments

As an interventional radiologist, Dr. Powell specializes in the diagnosis and minimally invasive treatment of venous disorders like varicose veins. Diagnosing varicose veins involves taking a thorough history, performing a clinical examination and, in many cases, administering an ultrasound of your venous system.

To treat varicose veins, Dr. Powell performs minimally invasive endovenous techniques using radiofrequency and laser. Through a small catheter inserted into the problematic vein, he inserts a probe that delivers a precise dose of radiofrequency or laser energy to seal the vein.

“This process is called ablation,” Dr. Powell explained. “The procedure closes off the varicose vein and diverts blood flow to nearby functional veins. The resulting increased circulation reduces the symptoms of varicose veins and improves their surface appearance.”

Endovenous techniques require no general anesthesia and offer minimal risk, a short recovery time and quick relief. In fact, patients are encouraged to walk immediately after the procedure and resume normal activities the same day.

Other treatment options for varicose veins include:

•   Sclerotherapy – Varicose veins are injected with a liquid chemical that scars and closes the veins.

•    Ambulatory phlebectomy – Small varicose veins are removed through a series of tiny skin punctures.

•    Endoscopic vein surgery – Through a small incision, your doctor inserts a tiny instrument equipped with a camera and surgical device to close the varicose vein and remove it. This procedure is performed only in an advanced case involving leg ulcers.

You can learn more from Dr. Powell about the cause and symptoms of varicose veins and the various treatment options at the Community Program Treating Varicose Veins Without Surgery on Tuesday, July 22.

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