This article was originally written by Anne Wolski
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A vein is a blood vessel that carries blood throughout the body. Normally, these veins do their job like a well oiled pump but sometimes these veins break down, causing the flow of blood to become abnormal.
I am sure most of us have, or know someone who has the enlarged, twisted, superficial veins in their lower legs and ankles known as varicose veins.
Varicose veins can occur in any part of the body but are more common in the lower extremities.
These veins can be due to genetic default but this is not the only cause. Other contributing factors can be prolonged standing or pregnancy. For many women, the first signs of varicose veins appear during pregnancy. Obesity is also a contributing factor. The added pressure of supporting excess weight is almost certain to result in chronic venous breakdown.
The signs and symptoms of varicose veins not only includes the unsightly rope-like veins but also a constant dull ache, cramps, swelling and fatigue after standing.
There may also be a brownish discolouration of the skin which is known as stasis pigmentation. This is caused by a breakdown of blood cells leading to a leakage in the affected area and is common in people who have suffered from this condition for a lengthy period of time.
Usually diagnosis is simply a case of visual observation but sometimes a procedure called phlebography is used. This is a painless procedure in which a solution called a radio-opaque contrast medium is introduced into the bloodstream. Imaging of the veins is then carried out to detect the abnormalities in the blood flow and venous pressure.
Another diagnostic procedure available is the use of ultrasound to examine the blood flow in the major arteries and veins in the arms and legs. This procedure is known as Doppler’s ultrasonography. Ultrasound is high frequency sound waves that echo off the body. It is performed by applying a water soluble gel to the body and then passing a hand held device known as a transducer over the area.
Treatment of varicose veins an be as simple as wearing elasticised compression stockings, controlling your weight, undertaking a moderate exercise program, avoiding prolonged periods of standing, and elevating the legs whenever possible.
Another method of treatment is called compression sclerotherapy. In this procedure, points of abnormal flow from deep to superficial veins are located and permanently obliterated by the injection of a substance called a sclerosant. Application of continuous pressure then restores the pumping capacity of the vein.
In severe cases, a surgical procedure called stripping and ligation may be considered necessary. During this surgery, one or more incisions are made over the varicose veins, and the vein is tied off (ligated). If several valves in the vein and the vein itself are heavily damaged, the vein (or the diseased part of the vein) is usually removed (stripped). An incision is made below the varicose vein, a flexible instrument is threaded up the vein to the first incision, and the vein is grasped and removed.
If you have varicose veins, it is necessary to seek medical advice. Your health practitioner will advise you of treatment options and will assist you in the care of your condition.