One in five Canadian adults suffer from varicose veins. Here’s how you can treat— and prevent—them.
Walk for at least 20 minutes a day, and stretch your legs after every two hours of physical inactivity in order to improve your vein health.
Varicose veins usually form in the lower extremities, and are often accompanied by pain, tingling, numbness, cramps and pressure. They may appear as swollen and blue-coloured veins or small purple squiggly filaments. The exact cause of this phenomenon is not known, but it occurs when the superficial blood vessels are in trouble. “The veins work against gravity to return blood to the heart through their valves,” explains Dr. Pauline Raymond-Martimbeau, phlebologist and vice-president of the Canadian Society of Phlebology. If these don’t work well, blood collects in the thin-walled vessels, which will dilate or enlarge permanently.” Heredity, age, pregnancy or a sedentary lifestyle (such as standing or sitting for long periods of time) are all factors that can cause varicose veins to develop or worsen.
“Varicose veins are a condition that must be taken seriously. Once dilated, the veins can cause damage such as swelling, clots (thrombosis), ulcers, ruptures or eczema,” says Dr. Raymond-Martimbeau, who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of vein disorders and diseases. “This is why it is important to see a phlebologist. By performing a venous ultrasound, the doctor will be able to assess the condition of vessels and the function of valves to recommend treatment and prevention advice.” Varicose veins cannot be cured, but several treatments are effective in relieving discomfort and helping to avoid complications.
Small varicose veins are often treated with liquid sclerotherapy, which involves the injection of a solution that irrigates and collapses the vein to redirect blood flow to healthy veins. You can treat more than one vein at a time, but you may need several sessions. If you have larger varicose veins, physician-compounded foam sclerotherapy is both the most popular and most affordable treatment in Canada. But depending on the complexity of the issue, your specialist may opt for a thermal treatment such as endovenous laser, which destroys affected veins with a high-intensity light beam, or radiofrequency, which also damages the veins with heat. Ambulatory phlebectomy, a minimally invasive surgery that removes veins through thin incisions in the skin, is also indicated for large varicose veins. While sclerotherapy doesn’t require anesthesia, other treatments are usually performed under local anesthesia.
“Because this is a progressive condition, it’s difficult to predict whether new varicose veins will appear,” says Dr. Raymond- Martimbeau. An annual visit after the initial treatment is recommended to monitor the condition of the venous system, and additional treatments may be required to maintain results. However, we can put the odds on our side by adopting lifestyle habits recommended by Dr. Raymond- Martimbeau: “Walk for at least 20 minutes every day and stretch your legs by walking or lifting up on the tips of your toes for a few minutes after every two hours of physical inactivity.” Compression stockings also help blood flow to the heart faster. Fruits, particularly those rich in vitamin C, green vegetables and venotonic supplements can improve the resistance of the venous walls and help reduce symptoms.