Beating the heat in New York City requires cool clothing, air conditioning and a good attitude. But if you have varicose veins, the thought of slipping on a pair of shorts or a bathing suit is enough to make you sweat, no matter the temperature.
According to Dr. Jennifer K. Svahn, a vascular surgeon at Beth Israel Medical Center, the problems are more than cosmetic. “Varicose veins may be big, gnarly, bulging and ropey, but they represent a much more complex problem in the vascular system,” Dr. Svahn says.
Varicose veins could signal vascular disease
That’s because varicose veins are caused by a disease called chronic venous insufficiency, or reflux. When the valves that control and direct blood flow back out of the legs do not work properly, blood flows backwards and pools in the leg veins, causing the following symptoms:
- Bulging, painful veins in the legs
- Heaviness, cramping, fatigue and restlessness in the legs
- Dermatitis, skin ulcers and other skin changes in the legs
- Swelling and edema in the legs
In fact, discomfort is one of the top reasons patients seek treatment for varicose veins – not because of appearances. “Most people who come in are far less worried about how things look than how things feel,” Dr. Svahn says.
Know your options
Rather than sending patients straight to the operating room, vascular experts at Beth Israel Medical Center initially recommend conservative techniques to manage varicose veins whenever possible.
- Compression stockings are specially designed to help regulate blood flow in the legs. These stockings compress tightly around the ankle and gradually exert pressure so blood will move up the leg. This helps normalize circulation in the veins and relieves some of the cramping and discomfort. Compression stockings come in different strengths and lengths, so talk to your doctor about what’s best for you.
- Weight control helps curb the severity of varicose veins and can even prevent them by alleviating pressure and swelling in the legs. At least 30 minutes of moderately intense daily exercise encourages healthy blood flow through the veins. “Exercise combats the effects of gravity on the veins by pumping up the calf muscles and promoting blood circulation,” Dr. Svahn says. Calf raises, ankle rotations, squats and walking can get blood circulating in the legs.
- Leg elevation also counteracts gravity. Elevating your legs above the level of your heart for 10 to 15 minutes once or twice daily may lessen aching and swelling. In addition to your regular workout routine, add some elevated leg exercises like hip raises or hamstring curls for healthier blood flow.
- Sclerotherapy is a procedure that involves injecting a solution directly into the varicose vein. The solution causes the blood vessel to collapse, forcing blood to reroute to healthier veins. Eventually, the vessel turns into scar tissue that fades from view.
When conservative approaches are not enough, Beth Israel Medical Center also offers convenient, minimally invasive procedures to treat varicose veins. “Techniques such as endovenous laser ablation therapy are great options with little to no downtime and excellent outcomes,” says Dr. Svahn.
You don’t have to put up with pain caused by varicose veins. Call 212-420-5648 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Svahn or visit chpnyc.org for more information.