How are varicose veins treated?
Compression stockings can be used to alleviate many of the symptoms of varicose veins and can be useful for people in whom surgery is not advisable, for example, pregnant women. They may also be used to relieve symptoms and to prevent further damage in people whose veins are not severely affected. The stockings work by exerting pressure on the superficial veins to force blood into the deep veins of the leg and then back to the heart. They stop the blood from pooling and relieve the swelling of the veins. There are three different grades of stockings: light, medium and strong support. The appropriate grade should be chosen according to the severity of the problem. They are available in different sizes and colors and are prescribed by a doctor to ensure that the correct degree of support is chosen and that they fit correctly.
Sometimes varicose veins may be treated with sclerotherapy. This treatment involves injecting the affected vein with a sclerosing agent (eg, ethanolamine oleate [Ethamolin]), which damages the lining of the vein. The walls of the vein then stick together and the vein will remain empty of blood. Treatment is not always permanent as the damaged valves are not repaired or removed so other veins can become affected. Larger varicose veins tend to be recurrent and sclerotherapy may only be a short-term measure. This method is often used as more of a cosmetic treatment for smaller capillaries, which are causing discoloration of the legs.
The usual treatment for severe varicose veins is surgery. Leaking valves, particularly those behind the knee or in the groin, may be removed. Alternatively, long stretches of veins can be stripped if they contain faulty valves. This is usually done via an incision in the groin and further small incisions down the leg. Large swollen varicose veins may also be tied off and removed. As it is only the superficial veins that become varicose, the main drainage of blood from the leg via the deep veins is unaffected by these procedures. The leg contains a complex of superficial and deep veins and blood will find another route back after veins have been removed. Faulty valves need to be removed or these new routes may also become varicose in time. Surgery can often be performed as day surgery although in some cases an overnight stay may be advised. Following surgery most people are able to return to work or carry out normal activities after about two weeks.
What steps can I take to reduce my risk of developing varicose veins?
Varicose veins may not be prevented but certain measures may be taken in order to reduce your risk of developing varicose veins or getting additional ones. Exercising, watching your weight, elevating your legs, and changing your sitting or standing position regularly have been shown to be helpful; these may also help treat the discomfort you may experience.
National Institutes of Health: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/varicoseveins.html
Last Reviewed: May 2013