Varicose veins are more than just unsightly. They can be downright deadly.
Why? Because they can cause discomfort, pain, ulcers, and blood clots (which can ultimately cause strokes and/or heart attacks).
This past summer, I was treated for multiple large and small varicose veins that I was completely unaware of and didn’t know were causing problems. I’m 45, in good health, a vegetarian, and I work out at least 4-5 times a week. Why would I need to worry about varicose veins?
One day this spring, I noticed a blue bulge in my upper inner thigh. Upon palpation, I knew it was a rather large vein as it rolled under my finger. Over the years, I’ve had a few small varicose veins show up around my ankles, but other than that my legs looked normal for my age, absent of tangled, prominent veins. However, this small bump was bothersome because I had never seen a vein this thick, so prominent, and so high up my leg. After a consultation with a vein clinic, I was scheduled to undergo an ultrasound on both legs.
The ultrasound provides the physician with a clear picture of your veins. Ultrasounds are helpful because they provide then doctor with the following information:
An ultrasound can provide a clear image of both your superficial veins (that are near the surface of the skin) and the deep veins in muscles, which carry over 80% of blood back to the heart.
After the ultrasound of both of my legs (which can take up to 45 minutes per leg), the doctor showed me my “vein map” that was drawn during my ultrasound. You can see the results of my vein map below.
At first, I was confused as to why they drew out my veins but I still studied the image. What shocked me was when the doctor told me these red lines on my vein map were all of the BAD VEINS that weren’t working properly in my body. (The one blue line in each image is a vein that was working correctly.) These ‘red lines’ were veins within my legs that either had bad valves, pooling blood, or blood flowing in the wrong direction.
Obviously that bulging vein in my upper thigh was just the tip of the iceberg as to what was going on under the surface of my skin.
There are two basic blood vessels in our bodies: the arteries that carry blood away from the heart, and veins that carry blood back towards the heart. As we get older, our arteries don’t have as many problems because in the walls of these vessels, there’s a thick band of muscle which helps move the blood along. There’s also elastic fibers and an elastic membrane in arteries, and they also have thicker walls. Veins not only have less elastic, thinner walls, and fewer muscle fibers, but they also have one-way valves which keep the blood from moving backward. However, over time, as you age, the blood continues to flow against gravity and the valves are more likely to become faulty.
When vein valves don’t work properly and leak, blood flows backward (reflux). This leads to blood pooling in the lower legs, which causes the veins to bulge under your skin. When blood isn’t circulated properly and simply pools in your calves and feet, this can lead to a heavy feeling in the legs, as well as tiredness, pain, and swelling in the lower extremities. When you have varicose veins, you also have an increased risk for developing blood clots. Usually these are not the serious kind (that occur in the deep veins), but there is nonetheless an increased risk of having a clot.
Unfortunately, varicose veins are progressive, which means if left untreated, they may continue to get worse. Eventually, this venous insufficiency can lead to inflammation, restless legs, and leg cramps at night. Documented complications can also include a darkening of the skin around the ankles, eczema at or near the area of blood pooling (ankles or feet), and a total breakdown of the skin, causing a leg ulcer.
Basically, those most at risk for varicose veins are:
In addition, there are other reasons why people can get varicose veins:
I really hope that in sharing this information, others will be better informed and educated to get themselves checked and treated, if necessary. I hardly noticed that my legs felt heavy at the end of the day, and if I did, I figured it was because I was working on my feet for too long. For too long I assumed that my restless legs and tight calves were just due to my large calf muscles (genetics) and not because my blood wasn’t flowing through my body properly.
In my next post, I will explain what my treatment consisted of, the effects, and my overall results.