CINCINNATI—Although many people think of varicose veins as a cosmetic issue, specialists caution that they can be indicative of a more serious underlying medical condition and should be evaluated by a specialist if they are causing symptoms.
Up to 25 million Americans have varicose veins—bulging vessels that can be easily seen and felt under the surface of the skin. According to the Vascular Disease Foundation (VDF), vein problems are among the most common chronic conditions in North America. VDF estimates that by age 50 nearly 40 percent of women and 20 percent of men will have significant leg vein problems.
"What specifically causes varicose veins is unclear, but we do know they are related to problems with how the vein valves work in your legs,” explains Mona Li
, MD, an assistant professor at the UC College of Medicine and UC Health general surgeon who specializes in the treatment of varicose veins.
Left untreated, she says advanced cases can lead to more severe symptoms in the calf and ankle area, such as thickened and brownish discoloration of the skin, a red rash or eczema and non-healing sores. People with very large varicose veins are also at risk for developing superficial blood clots.
As Li explains, veins normally bring blood from the legs toward your heart. When these valves do not function properly, they become leaky and cause venous blood flow to reverse down the legs, leading to high blood pressure in the leg veins and breakdown of both the vein wall and valves.
"Varicose veins enlarge as the result of this increased pressure and over time with age. As the pressure increases, it can lead to symptoms such as ankle and leg swelling a feeling of heaviness, fatigue, aching pain, burning and itching,” adds Li.
She offers the following tips to delay and manage varicose veins:
• Be active and move your legs often to keep vein blood flowing
• Maintaining a healthy weight
• Elevate and rest your legs several times a day if you have symptoms
• Wear prescription compression stockings to help manage symptoms
Li sees patients at the UC Health Vein Center
, located at the UC Health Physicians Office North, 7690 Discovery Drive, Suite 2000, in West Chester.
The center offers minimally invasive outpatient treatment for varicose veins, spider veins and chronic venous insufficiency by surgeons specifically trained to treat vein conditions. It includes an on-site, comprehensive vascular lab staffed by registered vascular technicians who specialize in evaluating venous conditions.