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Suffering from aching legs and swollen ankles? Varicose veins could be the reason why!

Published on:14 August 2021, 08:00am IST
If you have ever noticed swollen or bulged veins on your legs and feet, don’t simply ignore it. You could be facing varicose veins, says an expert.
Dr Krishna Chaitanya K H
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Varicose veins
From pain and itching to discoloration and discomfort, varicose veins have multiple symptoms. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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Varicose veins are large, visible, purplish swollen veins that often appear on the legs and feet. They may look lumpy, bulged or twisted. A substantial percentage of the adult population in India has the varicose veins problem. It is usually prevalent in the 40 years-plus age group.

Veins in our body depend on muscles and valves for circulation of blood to the heart. Veins have valves which are in control of sending blood back into the heart once oxygen has been provided to the cells. These valves are one-way valves and if any of them are damaged, the blood will flow backward and get collected in the veins. This results in swelling and discoloration. To accommodate the increased pressure, walls of the affected veins swell up and varicose veins become visible. Superficial veins have less muscle support than deep veins, and hence they are more likely to become varicose.

Symptoms of varicose veins

The primary symptoms of varicose veins are visible misshapen veins on legs. Symptoms may also include:

  1. Swelling and enlargement of veins on the feet and around the ankles
  2. Appearance of spider veins in the affected leg
  3. Heavy feeling in the legs
  4. Ache, burning sensation, throbbing in legs
  5. Muscle cramps in legs
  6. Dry and itchy skin over the affected vein
  7. Darkening of the affected area
Complications

There are quite a few complications that can possibly arise out of varicose veins. Although this happens rarely, they may occasionally activate severe health consequences like:

  1. Blood clots: Veins that are deep within the legs sometimes enlarges. This causes pain or swelling in the affected leg. Any persistent leg pain or swelling needs medical attention as it could be the indication of a blood clot, a condition medically known as thrombophlebitis.
  2. Ulcers:  What starts as a discoloured spot on the skin becomes painful ulcers on the skin near varicose veins, particularly near the ankles. Do not wait to see youR doctor if you suspect you have developed an ulcer.
  3. Bleeding: Occasionally, veins very close to the skin (superficial veins) may burst. This generally causes only minor bleeding. But remember, any bleeding calls for medical attention.
Varicose vein
Your sedentary lifestyle is giving you varicose veins. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Managing varicose veins

Ensure better circulation and build better muscle tone in the legs. This may help with the varicose veins, and will help in alleviating the discomfort caused by existing ones. Although this condition is not completely preventable, listed below are some measures which can help in managing the condition and reduce their prominence and risks. 

  1. Control weight gain: One of the most common suggestions to prevent varicose veins is to avoid weight gain. That is because gaining weight is often linked to poor circulation, a key reason for varicose vein
  2. Exercise: Exercising improves blood circulation and also keeps weight under check. It is also suggested to relieve discomfort due to varicose veins, as well as to prevent them.
  3. Avoid water retention: A fiber rich and low in salt diet will help with water retention issues. It will help better the blood circulation and support prevention of varicose veins.
  4. Wear comfortable clothing: Tight clothing can cause havoc on the body’s circulation. If the valves are already damaged, such clothing can increase the chances of developing weaker walls of veins and ineffectual valves.
  5. Use compression pants: Wearing compression pants can increase the efficiency of blood flow and improve circulation.  These may help in managing varicose veins.
  6. Keep legs elevated: While sitting for a longer period, keeping legs elevated prevents the pooling of blood in veins. This also prevents discoloration and ensures that there is less pressure on legs from the possibly weakened venous walls.
Treatment

Medical intervention may be required in cases where these lifestyle changes are not working. The veins rarely need treatment for health reasons, but if there is considerable discomfort, treatment can be availed. In some severe cases, a varicose vein may rupture, or varicose ulcers may develop on the skin. Presently there is a wide variety of minimally invasive treatment choices available. These include:

  1. Sclerotherapy, using chemical injection of a liquid or foam to block a larger vein
  2. Microsclerotherapy, using chemical injection of a liquid to block smaller veins
  3. Laser surgery, to block off a vein
  4. Endovenous ablation therapy, which uses heat and radiofrequency waves to block a vein
  5. Endoscopic vein surgery, where a small lighted scope is inserted through a small incision to block a vein
  6. More recently, Endovenous glue obliteration of varicose veins is being practiced where in the damaged veins are blocked by bio-glue. This can be performed as an office procedure.

Varicose veins generally get worse over time. This happens even if you make the necessary lifestyle changes to control them. While they may be unpleasant, they usually don’t cause any long-term medical problems.

Dr Krishna Chaitanya K H Dr Krishna Chaitanya K H

Dr Krishna Chaitanya K H, Consultant, Vascular and Endovascular surgery, Columbia Asia Referral Hospital Yeshwanthpur (A unit of Manipal Hospitals)