CINCINNATI—It’s the season of warm weather and shorts, but many Americans would rather tolerate the burden of long pants than reveal their legs because of an often embarrassing condition.
According to the Society for Vascular Surgery, more than 40 million Americans—the majority of them women—have mild to severe varicose veins, bulging or twisted blue veins that are visible through the skin.
The condition occurs when blood builds up in the surface veins in your legs. Because these veins are very small, they cannot withstand extended periods of increased blood volume—which damages the vein valves, weakens the vessel wall, and results in unappealing, often uncomfortable, raised spots on the legs.
“Your leg veins have to work against gravity to pump oxygen-rich blood through the vein valves and back up to the heart,” explains Amy Reed, MD, vascular surgeon and assistant professor surgery at the University of Cincinnati (UC). “Walking and other activities require your leg muscles to squeeze, which promotes good blood circulation.”
“Problems occur when you stand or sit for extended periods,” she adds, “because the blood in your leg veins starts to accumulate and hinder proper blood circulation.”
Larger varicose veins can impede the entire process of sending blood back to the heart for recirculation—causing lower-leg aches and pains, night cramps and a feeling of heaviness in the legs. Left untreated, varicose veins can become worse with time.
“Severe varicose veins often force people to change their lifestyles because they can’t tolerate being on their feet all day at work,” says Reed. “But it doesn’t have to be that way—the ‘plumbing problem’ can be fixed with minimally invasive techniques that require little down time, but yield great results.”
Dr. Reed and her vascular surgery team offer a minimally invasive vascular procedure—known as radiofrequency ablation (RFA)—for the treatment of varicose veins at University Hospital, Christ Hospital and University Pointe Surgical Hospital in West Chester.
To perform the RFA procedure, a thin, flexible tube (catheter) with tiny electrodes at its tip is inserted directly into the varicose vein. The surgeon then administers heat to destroy vein tissue and cause the vessel to collapse and seal. The vein, no longer able to carry blood, breaks up and is absorbed back into the body.
The outpatient procedure takes about 45 minutes to complete, and patients usually begin seeing changes within two weeks.
To avoid developing varicose veins, Reed recommends getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and ceasing to smoke. If you are susceptible to vascular disease and are required to stand for long periods of time at work, compression stockings—which support leg veins—may also help prevent vascular problems.
Reed is one of nearly 140 UC experts answering health-related questions from consumers on NetWellness, a collaborative health-information Web site staffed by Ohiophysicians, nurses and allied health professionals. For moreinformation, visit www.netwellness.org/.