Thinking about a winter getaway to a sun destination? For many women, that means not only shorts, sun dresses, swimsuits and breaking out the razors, but exposing those varicose veins.
Although more than 20 per cent of adult Canadians have them (women are four to five times more likely than men), they are truly spoilers when it comes to slipping on shorts or a bathing suit. That doesn’t have to be the case. Solutions are plentiful with technology spanning the gamut from high to low, in-office procedures done by a physician to more invasive surgical options.
Know the symptoms
In addition to being unsightly, typical symptoms include swelling and pain, which can range from itchiness to a sensation that feels like ants crawling under the skin to intense throbbing or shooting pains.
The condition occurs when valves in the veins stop working properly and blood collects in the veins. The cause of such a malfunction is unknown but various treatments have been developed to deal with its effects. If left untreated, varicose veins may grow and can eventually cause inflammation, skin breakdown and ulceration.
The first thing to do if you believe you may have varicose veins is to talk to your primary physician. He or she will ask about your symptoms and examine your legs. In some cases, an ultrasound scan will be used for a more detailed examination.
Initially, the symptoms may be alleviated by elevating the legs to ease pressure in the veins, exercising the calf muscles to improve circulation and using compression stockings.
If you and your primary physician decide to look at medical intervention, you may be referred to a vascular surgeon who can help you explore several treatment options. These vary in invasiveness and recovery time but share the same goal – to close off the diseased veins and allow the body to reroute blood through neighbouring healthy veins.
Weighing treatment options
The traditional treatment is surgery. The procedure involves cutting and removing a section of the vein and stitching shut the remaining ends of the veins. The cost is often covered by provincial healthcare plans if the severity of the varicose veins is deemed serious.
Other options include:
- Thermal ablation, which closes the veins with heat or electric current. •Sclerotherapy involves injecting a special type foam into the vein.
- Venaseal, a specially formulated medical adhesive that seals the vein.
Private health plans may also cover the cost of some of these treatments.
What the doctor recommends
When I discuss treatment options with patients, my first recommendation is to consider the Venaseal procedure for several reasons.
First, no anaesthetic is required. The procedure is performed in a surgeon’s office and normally takes 30 to 40 minutes to complete on one leg. As well, it is safe for those taking blood thinners. The risk of blood clots, infections and other complications is extremely low and the probability of recurrence is also minimal.
Finally, there’s no major recovery or time off work needed. Patients can drive themselves home from the appointment and are encouraged to walk after the procedure. They don’t need to wear stockings following treatment.
One concern I hear about Venaseal is that it is relatively new so patients wonder about its safety. I reassure them that, while treating varicose veins with adhesive is new, the glue itself has been used for many years for other parts of the body.
If you want to eliminate varicose veins, take the first step by speaking with your physician about the variety of safe and effective treatments available.
Dr. Christiane Werneck is a vascular surgeon with Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, ON, and an associate professor in the Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto.