Itchy legs. Tired and restless legs. Swelling and cramping in legs.
These are more than just unpleasant side effects of too much standing or strenuous activity. They can indicate a deeper medical condition known as varicose veins.
When valves in veins become weak or damaged, whether through heredity or lifestyle, blood can back up and pool in your veins, causing the dark, thick veins that often appear just under the skin.
Beyond their unappealing look, varicose veins can be uncomfortable, painful and may even cause other medical conditions like ulcers, blood clots and more.
But even if they run in your family, that doesn’t mean they have to be your fate. If you’re diagnosed with varicose veins there are treatments that can improve their appearance, reduce health risks and stop those annoying symptoms.
The question isn’t can you treat them, but what is the right treatment for varicose veins?
Let’s talk about some options and the pros and cons of each so that when you consult with a medical professional you’ll be armed with insight that can help you and your doctor choose a treatment plan that works for you.
Vein stripping is a surgery in which the veins are physically removed from the body.
In the past this was the only viable method of treating varicose veins, which made it common enough that it is still practiced today.
Today, however, this is a practice that should no longer be considered an option. Newer, less invasive and virtually painless techniques are a better choice for most patients.
As surgery, vein stripping requires a hospital visit, anesthesia and may require days of recovery time. There may be scarring or additional complications from surgery. Recurrence is also higher with vein stripping than with other methods.
Generally speaking, this is not practiced today and should not be considered as a treatment option.
One of the more modern and non-invasive techniques for treating varicose veins involves applying heat through a laser or with radiofrequency.
Laser fibers (fiber optics) or radiofrequency electrodes are inserted through tiny incisions near the affected veins.
Then through the application of targeted heat, your doctor can cauterize damaged veins, redirecting blood flow through healthy ones. The damaged veins will naturally be reabsorbed into your body and disappear.
Laser therapy and radiofrequency therapy result in similar outcomes, but laser therapy produces more heat so it may be uncomfortable for some patients.
Neither of these techniques is painful and recovery time is minimal.
Either application can be mitigated with a local anesthetic and done right in your doctor’s office – no hospital stays, no surgical procedures and minimal risk. There is no special preparation, the procedure can be done in 30 minutes and you can get right back to your normal activity afterwards.
You’ll want to avoid strenuous activity for a couple of days and your doctor will likely prescribe compression stockings to wear for a short period, but the procedure is otherwise fast, painless and effective.
Ablation can improve the appearance of veins tremendously and there is a much lower rate of recurrence than with surgery.
Sclerotherapy is also minimally invasive and can be done right in your doctor’s office.
Sclerotherapy involves injecting a medication into veins. The medication irritates the lining of the vein, causing it to swell and close off. Sometimes patients experience a burning sensation but that can be mitigated with a local anesthetic.
Much like with ablation, you can return to normal, non-strenuous activity almost immediately and your doctor will likely prescribe compression stockings to be worn for a short period.
Your doctor will perform an ultrasound and exam to determine the best course of treatment for your particular case.
The type of treatment will depend in part on the location of veins, condition of veins, your medical history and other factors.
Vein ablation, for example, is most effective on veins that appear above the knee.
Sclerotherapy is ideal for veins below the knee and in some cases where veins are too small, too close to the skin or too twisted to allow for a laser to be inserted effectively.
Sclerotherapy shouldn’t be done in some cases, for example if you are pregnant or have a history of blood clots.
Both of these procedures – ablation and sclerotherapy can be done in-office during a short visit but depending on the severity of varicose veins, may require more than one session. Risk and side effects are minimal and many patients need no pain medication following the procedures. Some may opt for an over the counter pain medication to alleviate soreness.
Surgery carries the greatest risk, including bleeding, bruising, scarring and infection in addition to the risk of anesthetic, especially for patients with other medical conditions. It also has the highest recurrence rate, the longest recovery time and can be painful for patients.
The ultimate goal of any treatment is to close off abnormal veins and let the healthy ones work. Your doctor will help you make the right choice and by educating yourself about your options you can choose a doctor who has the experience, knowledge and skills to perform the most effective technique for your needs.