Tired legs, bulging veins, ulcers and a burning sensation are just some of the symptoms associated with varicose veins, a condition that affects one in every two people.
According to Dr. Ashkan Haghshenas, Specialist Vascular Surgeon, specialized in Varicose Veins at Burjeel Hospital for Advanced Surgery, Dubai, many people wrongly see it solely an aesthetic issue when, in reality, it is a chronic disease that affects a growing number of people in the UAE each year. Furthermore, if left untreated, varicose veins can lead to potentially dangerous complications.
The main symptoms of varicose veins include heavy and uncomfortable legs after standing for a long time, swollen feet and ankles, burning or throbbing in your legs or feet, muscle cramps in your legs (particularly at night) and dry itchy and thin skin over the affected legs. Interestingly, symptoms are usually worse during warm weather and, contrary to popular belief, the problem is not limited to women.
“While the majority of patients treated for varicose veins are women, men also suffer from venous diseases, even if they're less likely to seek treatment,” says Dr. Ashkan.
“However, such factors as heredity, pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy, contraceptives, and obesity can also contribute. In hot countries such as the UAE, the veins swell and open up in order to help cool the body and prevent overheating. This swelling makes veins larger and allows more blood to pool in one place.”
“Varicose veins are perfectly treatable but the risk of recurrence depends on the patient’s heredity and way of life. The risk increases if the patient does not take various health precautions, such as exercising regularly, avoiding standing for prolonged period, refraining from smoking and monitoring their weight.”
Varicose veins and spider veins, which are smaller and resemble spider webs, are the result of weak or damaged valves in the veins. When the valves become damaged, the veins start to expand causing the valves to not close properly. This results in reversing the blood flow in the vein eventually causing leg swelling.
Varicose veins and spider veins cause aching pain and discomfort that can progressively worsen. If left untreated they can cause various complications such as venous ulcers (sores) and chronic venous insufficiency, when the veins of the legs are unable to pump the required volume of
blood back to the heart. Pregnant women may also develop varicose veins because pregnancy increases the volume of blood in a woman’s body.
Dr. Ashkan says: “It is not uncommon to have varicose and spider veins in one leg but they are quite different. Spider veins for example are small, thin red capillaries or blue blood vessels that can be seen under the skin, whereas varicose veins are stretched-out veins.
“Varicose veins can cause further complications because of increased venous pressure, and bad circulation in the lower legs. Some of these complications are edema – swollen ankles and lower legs, thrombosis – blood clotting within the affected veins, bleeding, varicose eczema, lipodermatosclerosis, which causes the skin to become reddened and tight, and venous ulcers.”
Not everyone with varicose veins requires treatment adds Dr. Ashkan. Although there are some instances when treatment may be necessary particularly to ease pain and discomfort, to reduce the risk of developing leg ulcers, swelling or skin discoloration or for aesthetic purposes.
Some of the treatments available include wearing compression stockings, taking medication or having the vein closed (ablation). There are various ablation procedures to choose from including liquid injection sclerotherapy, foam injection sclerotherapy, skin-type (topical) laser treatment and endo-venous laser treatment (EVLT), minphlebectomy may be proposed, which involves the removal of faulty veins through minute incisions.