Varicose veins are twisted, enlarged veins that appear close to the surface of the skin and are most prevalent in the foot and ankle area. Approximately 50 percent of women over the age of 50 will develop them in their foot, ankle or legs.
Varicose veins are comparable to the branches of a tree. The base of the tree is a vein that is normal, but for whatever reason — hormones, age, genetics, pregnancy or trauma — the vein starts to branch out, or arborize.
• Family history: Runs on the mother's side of the family
• Hormones: Birth control pills and estrogen replacement therapy increase your chance of varicose veins
• Occupation: If you sit at a desk or are on your feet for long periods of time, the risk for varicose veins can increase
• Crossing your legs: Changes the position of your veins' valves
• Being overweight: Extra pressure on the venous walls can create varicose veins
Primary treatments for varicose veins include laser therapy and sclerotherapy, in which a foaming chemical solution is injected directly into the vein, collapsing it instantly so the body can absorb it.
Laser therapy involves pulling a laser fiber through the blood vessel and sealing the varicose vein shut. It does not require anesthesia, usually takes less than an hour and has a short recovery period.
Interventional radiologist Dr. John Hewett says that preventing varicose veins from developing is simple. "I tell everyone to be active and proactive," he explains. "Active: get up, walk around, lose some weight and exercise. Be proactive: wear compression stockings. Also, if you see a varicose vein, even if it's a small spider vein, go and see a vein specialist.
Make sure there's nothing more significant wrong with your legs that can be treated early and taken care of, to prevent more serious consequences from happening later on," Dr. Hewett adds.