Varicose veins are enlarged and twisted rope-like veins that appear near the surface of the skin. While they can develop anywhere in the body, they are most commonly found in the legs and ankles because standing and walking increase pressure in the lower extremities. In normally functioning veins, tiny one-way valves open as blood flows toward the heart and close to prevent blood from flowing backward. When these valves malfunction, blood pools in the veins, resulting in a buildup of pressure that weakens their walls and causes them to bulge. Over time, the increased pressure can cause additional valves to fail. This venous reflux, or venous insufficiency, leads to the development of varicose veins and spider veins.
Spider veins (telangiectasias) are similar to varicose veins, but smaller and found closer to the skin's surface. They take their name from their appearance, which resembles a spider's web. Usually red or blue in color, they vary in size and can be found in other areas of the body besides the legs, including the face.
Unavoidable underlying causes of chronic venous insufficiency that can lead to varicose veins and spider veins include an inherited genetic predisposition and the normal aging process. Any condition that puts more pressure on leg veins - including standing for long periods of time, being overweight, or pregnancy - can also cause varicose veins or spider veins. Women are at greater risk than men due to hormonal changes that relax vein walls during pregnancy, pre-menstruation or menopause. Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy may also increase the risk, as do a history of blood clots and conditions that increase pressure in the abdomen, such as tumors, constipation and tight garments like girdles. Other factors include previous venous surgery and exposure to ultraviolet rays.
Varicose veins and spider veins appear most commonly between the ages of 30 and 70. The first physical symptom is usually their appearance. As the disease progresses, the legs begin to feel heavy, tired and achy, and these symptoms worsen with prolonged periods of sitting or standing. Muscle cramping may be accompanied by a burning and throbbing feeling in the lower legs. Varicose veins can also cause a change in skin color (known as stasis pigmentation), dry and thinning skin, inflammation of the skin, open sores and bleeding.
Dr. Jeffrey Himmelberg, Interventional Radiologist on the Medical Staff at Fremont Health Medical Center, utilizes a new treatment option - EndoVenous Laser Treatment (EVLT) - that eliminates unsightly varicose veins with no hospital stay, minimal-to-no scarring, no lengthy recovery and minimal-to-no side effects. Dr. Himmelberg frequently offers free varicose vein screenings, where he discusses symptoms and performs a physical exam of the affected areas. An ultrasound test is also performed to evaluate the function of valves in the veins and detect any venous reflux. Upon diagnosis, Dr. Himmelberg will discuss treatment options, including EndoVenous Laser Treatment (EVLT®).
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