Venous issues, such as spider veins and varicose veins, afflict a great deal of people. Although venous insufficiency is rarely dangerous, it does cause a great deal of discomfort. Many of those who suffer with these progressive conditions have chosen to simply cope with the discomfort venous insufficiency causes. Maybe you just don’t wear shorts anymore. Maybe you resigned yourself to late nights of pacing to calm the endless squirm of your skin and uncontrollable jerks of your feet. Maybe the heating pad is permanently plugged in next to your favorite chair because a day on your feet is guaranteed to leave your lower legs uncomfortably sore. Whatever the coping mechanism, many make these compromises every day, choosing to exchange quality of life for temporary relief of a condition that seems to have few effective treatments.
Typically, venous insufficiency manifests in symptoms such as swelling, muscle cramps, itching, muscle fatigue, and creeping sensations in the lower extremities. Visually, it is fairly easy to recognize venous insufficiency: spider veins are clusters of wispy, blue-purple threads near the surface of the skin; varicose veins appear as gnarled, winding protrusions under the surface of the skin that may or may not appear discolored. Another, more subtle, warning sign of developing venous issues can be deeply inset sock marks around the lower leg and ankles and tightness of pants around the calf and thigh at the end of the day — these symptoms can indicate the internal swelling and pooling of fluids that can lead to spider and varicose veins.
Technically, weak and dysfunctional valves are to blame for venous insufficiency — in healthy veins, the valves open to admit the blood stream through vessels, and afterward the valves close to keep the stream moving in the appropriate direction. In damaged or weakened veins, the valves fail to close fully, allowing blood to flow back in the wrong direction, which strains the vessels and causes blood to pool in the vein and nearby tissues. Gravity is an accomplice in these issues: as a fluid, blood collects at the lowest point possible and presents an additional force resisting the return of blood upward to the heart. These tendencies are why venous insufficiency occurs most often in the lower extremities.
Standing for long periods allows blood to collect in the lower extremities, aggravating symptoms and potentially further taxing already weakened valves. For those that work on their feet for extended time and those that sit for long durations — nurses, teachers, secretaries, factory workers, hairdressers, office workers — this can contribute to or complicate existing venous insufficiency. Genetics also plays a role in determining your risk for venous insufficiency. If your parents or grandparents suffered from varicose veins or painful, swollen legs, you will be prone to them as well. Pregnancy and obesity also increase the likelihood of developing varicose and spider veins, as both conditions put additional pressure on blood vessels. Without treatment, venous insufficiency will progress over time, increasing the risk of blood clotting, slowing the healing of wounds and lesions, and depriving tissues of healthy, oxygen-rich blood. While these are not generally life-threatening conditions, they can severely complicate other medical conditions.
As bothered as many are by the appearance of their spider and varicose veins, they are much more than a cosmetic issue — they are a medical condition that requires treatment. Dr. William Olson of Simply Vein in Davenport describes the more subtle impact that advanced venous insufficiency has on some patients: “It takes years to develop. People start to develop pain and suffering. They start to avoid doing things that activate that pain. They quit shopping, quit being active, don’t play with the kids as much, they find it hard to dress — it quietly impedes their lifestyle. This isn’t something people have to ‘become accustomed’ to. People don’t need to suffer for years. We stay in close contact with patients so this never becomes something that distracts them from life.”
For all of the complications and discomfort that vein issues can cause, Dr. Olson assures us that the treatment is surprisingly simple. Initial diagnosis involves a simple exam by a physician, followed by an in-office ultrasound that measures blood vessel diameter and
visualizes the presence of venous reflux (the backwards flow of blood). After this initial consultation, a course of treatment is recommended and Dr. Olson discusses with the patient a plan of treatment to fit their needs. Since venous insufficiency is a medical condition and not only a cosmetic issue, most insurers generally cover a recommended course of treatment.
The treatment of venous insufficiency almost never requires surgery. The majority of cases can be treated in-office and without anesthesia. Dr. Olson relates that the average patient requires about four to five office visits for a series of 15-minute therapies administered over the course of a few weeks. There is typically no downtime or recovery needed from these treatments; most patients return to work or activity the very next day. The best news is that, not only is venous insufficiency treatable in-office without lengthy recovery, but patients should begin to notice improvement with the first treatment and in as little as a few days after the procedure. Visually, discoloration will begin to fade and symptoms will begin to recede quickly, and they will continue to abate as treatment continues.
Even when the majority of symptoms have disappeared, patients return to monitor their condition at the one month, six month, and twelve-month intervals (or immediately if symptoms return) to ensure that symptoms are being addressed appropriately and the course of treatment is having the intended outcomes. Thankfully, there is a very low complication rate with all of the methods to treat venous insufficiency.
There’s no reason to hide behind long, loose pants in the hot weather. Don’t suffer another night laid up with the heating pad and compression stockings. Relief from venous insufficiency at Simply Vein begins with a call — it’s that simple.
To find out how Simply Vein can ease your venous issues, contact Dr. Olson’s office at 563-344-8333, visit SimplyVein.org or Like and Share the Simply Vein Facebook page.