Vein Conditions

Varicose Veins

Varicose Veins and Venous Reflux Disease

Varicose veins are the twisted, bulging veins just beneath the surface of the skin. Varicose veins are swollen, twisted veins that you can see just under the surface of the skin. These veins usually occur in the legs, but they also can form in other parts of the body. Varicose veins are a common condition.

What causes varicose veins?

Varicose veins are caused by leaky vein valves, which allow blood to pool within the veins causing them to stretch and become enlarged. Varicose veins can be an isolated finding, but the majority of the time, they are caused by underlying venous reflux disease. Venous reflux disease is also known as venous stasis, venous insufficiency or venous incompetence. Reflux may occur in the deep and/or superficial leg veins.

In our study, led by Dr. Nisha Bunke and published in the Journal of Vascular Ultrasound in 2018, we studied over 1,000 legs with varicose veins. Over 90% image magnifying glass on leg showing varicose vein along with diagram showing blood flow in normal and diseased veinof the time, the source of the varicose veins were the great and small saphenous veins. The Great Saphenous Vein (GSV) courses up the middle of the thigh and calf and the small saphenous vein (SSV), which courses along the back of the calf. Normally, there are one-way valves within the leg veins, which help blood flow in one direction: toward the heart. This means blood is traveling against gravity. The calf muscle also helps move blood toward the heart. When vein valves are leaky, blood flows backward (reflux) towards the feet. Blood pools in the lower legs, causing bulging veins at the surface.

What are the symptoms of varicose veins and venous reflux disease?

The symptoms can include:

  • Aching, tenderness
  • Heaviness, fatigue
  • General restlessness in the legs
  • Burning pain
  • Throbbing pain
  • Itching
  • Leg cramps, particularly at night
  • Ankle swelling
  • Skin discoloration at the ankle
  • Skin ulcers above the ankle

Over time, complications can develop from untreated veins. These include:

  • Superficial phlebitis (painful inflammation of the vein)
  • Superficial thrombophlebitis (blood clots within the varicose veins)
  • Spontaneous vein hemorrhage (the vein can rupture spontaneously)
  • Skin discoloration and eczema around the ankle (venous eczema)
  • Skin sores or ulcers usually near the ankle

Who is at risk?

How Is Venous Reflux Disease Diagnosed?

Duplex ultrasound technology is used to evaluate the veins beneath the surface of the skin. The ultrasound allows us to see if the valves are leaky; it can detect the direction of blood flow and also detects blockages in the veins, for example from blood clots or scars within the veins from previous clots. The ultrasound will determine exactly which veins are ‘bad’ or incompetent. Reflux may be detected in the deep veins (within the muscle), the great and small saphenous veins, and/or branches of the saphenous veins. This will help determine the treatment plan.

What is Duplex Ultrasound?

What is the Treatment?

Conservative Management & Lifestyle Modifications

The goals of treatment are to relieve symptoms, prevent complications and for some to improve appearance.  Lifestyle changes can ease the symptoms, but do not cause the veins to vanish.  These treatments include:

  • Avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time:  To keep blood moving when you have to sit or stand for long periods, try these tips: at work, take walking breaks and try walking during your lunch hour. While sitting, try flexing your feet up and down ten times an hour.
  • Exercise: Exercising is good for your veins because it improves blood flow. Walking, cycling or swimming are great exercises for vein health. But be sure to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
  • Weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight puts extra pressure on your veins.
  • Leg elevation: Use leg elevation three or four times a day for about 15 minutes at a time. Even elevating your legs on a step stool or ottoman is beneficial. If you need to sit or stand for a long period of time, flexing (bending) your legs occasionally can help keep blood circulating. If you have mild to moderate varicose veins, elevating your legs can help reduce leg swelling and relieve other symptoms.
  • Compression stockings: These elastic stockings squeeze or compress the veins and prevent blood from flowing backward. Compression stockings must be graduated, medical-grade compression to be beneficial. Over the counter,support hose or TED hose are not adequate to reduce symptoms in venous disease for active patients.
  • Supplements such as horse chestnut and grape seed extract can help reduce symptoms of venous disease. Check with your doctor before starting supplements.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen.
  • Anti-inflammatory topical agents such as OTC Arnica, or prescription voltaren gel may be helpful for painful phlebitis.
  • Ice packs can be applied to veins that are tender to reduce inflammation

Procedures for Treating Varicose Veins

Step 1: The Underlying Problem

The first step is to treat the underlying problem, the venous reflux. The specific pattern of venous reflux was detected by ultrasound. Venous reflux usually starts in the saphenous veins. The saphenous veins are most effectively treated with vein ablation procedures. This involves placing a small catheter within the vein and using heat or a solution to produce injury and eventual closure of the vein. The most commonly used treatments for the saphenous veins are radiofrequency ablation (RFA), laser ablation, mechanico-chemical ablation
(MOCA or Clarivein), and in some cases Varithena Foam or Venaseal.

The treatment recommendation is customized, based on where reflux is present and other factors that need to be considered when making this decision.

These will involve the following:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical condition.
  • Extent of the condition.
  • The findings of your venous ultrasound.
  • Your signs and symptoms.
  • Your tolerance of specific medicines, procedures, or therapies.
  • Expectations for the course of the condition.
  • Your opinion or preference.

Step 2: Varicose Vein Treatment

After the underlying saphenous vein reflux is corrected, the bulging veins (varicose veins) can be treated by injecting a foamed medication that will cause them to scar and eventually dissolve (foam sclerotherapy), or to remove them using tiny incisions. The most common method is foam sclerotherapy. This is also known as ultrasound-guided foam sclerotherapy (UGFS). Phlebectomy is another option which includes making small incisions to remove the vein.



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Dr. Bunke is kind, friendly and so knowledgeable that you feel very comfortable that you will receive excellent treatment.

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