Varciose veins are the swollen, twisted, and sometimes painful blood vessels filled with an abnormal collection of blood that can develop anywhere in the body, but are commonly found in the legs. Roughly half of people over age 50 have varicose veins, and they are three times more likely to occur in women than in men.
Although often harmless, varicose veins can also indicate more serious conditions, such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which is a blood clot in a deep vein. Risk factors for varicose veins include age, gender, heredity, hormonal factors (e.g. pregnancy and menopause), obesity, and traumatic injuries to the extremities.
“Normal veins allow blood to circulate from all parts of the body toward the heart,” explained Marcus D’Ayala, M.D., chief of vascular surgery at New York Methodist Hospital (NYM). “However, malfunctioning valves in varicose veins hinder this process, so treating the condition can make a crucial difference in the lives of patients, and not simply because of physical appearance.
According to D’Ayala, varicose veins are the most common early sign of vein disease and can worsen over time without proper treatment, which is why NYM’s Institute for Vascular Medicine and Surgery has both surgical and non-surgical treatment options to help patients improve the cosmetic appearance and avoid the risks posed by varicose veins.
The Vascular Laboratory at NYM offers patients high quality, painless diagnostic studies that provide referring physicians with information to assist in the management of vascular disease. Non-invasive diagnostic techniques include computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and angiography. Treatment can also, in many cases, be non-surgical; options include wearing compression stockings to increase circulation, undergoing sclerotherapy (injecting medicine directly into the veins to shrink them), elevating the legs when sitting, and exercise.
In more advanced cases of vascular disease, surgical intervention may be necessary to avoid stroke or limb loss and to relieve the effects of blocked blood vessels. “When non-surgical techniques are not an option, varicose veins are still highly treatable,” said Elie Semaan, M.D., attending physician in NYM’s Department of Vascular Surgery. “There are many approaches that we can use to improve blood flow.”
Traditionally, surgical treatment for varicose veins has been vein stripping – removing the affected blood vessels. Newer, less invasive treatments seal the main leaking vein and redirect blood flow are now available. These options include radiofrequency ablation (RFA – using radio waves to close the vein), and endovenus laser treatment (ELT – using laser light to eliminate the vein). Both of these procedures can be performed while the patient is awake, and rarely require an overnight hospital stay.
For a referral to an appropriate specialist affiliated with NYM’s Institute for Vascular Surgery and Medicine, or to schedule an appointment for a diagnostic procedure, please call 866-438-VEIN (866-438-8346).