There may be more to your varicose veins than meets the eye.
Blood clots, ulcers and other concerns could loom
Often women with varicose veins – and some men too – visit a vein specialist with thoughts of looking better in shorts or a swimsuit. But many come away surprised to learn this seemingly cosmetic problem could be tied to serious health risks.
Dr. Nick Morrison is the founder of the Morrison Vein Institute in Scottsdale and Tempe, Ariz. He is a world-renowned phlebologist and the past president of the American College of Phlebology. Morrison has seen many patient consultations where the conversation shifts from aesthetics to potentially life-saving lifestyle changes and treatment options.
“I’ll ask if the legs are feeling itchy. Are they swelling? Do your legs feel heavy when you stand on them for a long time? Do you have a family history of varicose veins or stroke? These are very important questions that could say a lot about what’s happening under that surface vein problem,” Morrison adds.
Varicose veins occur when a vein’s valves stop functioning properly. With these faulty valves, instead of blood flowing in one direction toward the heart, as it should, it now moves in both directions and pools in areas of the vein. These pools of blood can then be seen on the skin’s surface.
And there can be so much more to the story, Morrison says.
Varicose veins are also associated with chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), which can bring leg swelling as a result of increased blood pressure in poorly functioning veins. The condition most commonly occurs as a result of a blood clot in a deep, larger vein, which is known as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).
DVT is particularly dangerous, as a Pulmonary Embolism (PE) could occur if the clot breaks free and travels to the lungs. PE is responsible for between 60,000 and 100,000 deaths each year.
More superficial blood clots are referred to as phlebitis, or thrombophlebitis, and can produce pain and swelling. But phlebitis is far less serious than DVT since it occurs in smaller veins closer to the skin’s surface.
“Often times a patient may see a new varicose vein and it’s a call to action for them. With a checkup they can now explore what’s going on under the surface,” Morrison adds.
For checkups, Morrison conducts a venous reflux study, which involves an ultrasound of the leg. The non-invasive approach is welcomed over the sometimes uncomfortable venogram method, which uses an x-ray and dyes to view veins. The ultrasound and detailed family history allow Morrison’s team to create a treatment map. Patients can be in and out in less than an hour and leave with a wealth of information about the current state of their venous system.
“Many types of insurances cover testing because they want to rule out DVT or blood clots,” Morrison adds. “You can’t just treat the surface veins. The patient needs to understand the whole picture.”Az Republic Gallery