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Varicose Veins: Causes and Treatments

Varicose veins are enlarged, discolored veins. They appear swollen and twisted. Varicose veins are typically 3 millimeters or more in diameter. They are commonly found on the backs of the calves or on the thighs. Varicose veins are often painful and itchy. Scratching them can cause open sores to appear. Varicose veins occur more frequently with women than men and with people over the age of 50. Despite the best efforts of researchers, the exact cause of varicose veins still remains a mystery, but there are some theories.

A person who is overweight passes the additional weight in the abdominal muscle to the leg veins, which causes the veins to enlarge. In most cases varicose veins are found in the legs, which suggests that this condition comes from standing for long periods of time.

Veins have valves that prevent the blood from flowing backwards as it moves up the legs. In a varicose vein, however, these valves fail or become weak and result in blood going away from the heart and leaking back into the vein and collect there. This pooled blood enlarges and stretches the vein and it becomes varicose.

Weak vein walls can cause the vein to stretch and this can cause the vein valve to malfunction. This tends to occur with women who are pregnant, or on their period, because they produce hormones that can weaken the vein walls.

It appears that varicose veins are hereditary. Studies have shown that people who have family members that have varicose veins are more likely to get it. Weak veins and walls may also be inherited characteristics.

Arterio-Venous shunts can weaken the vein walls because it helps bypass the capillaries, which keeps the high blood pressure of the arteries from overwhelming the veins. The hormones created during puberty, pregnancy and menopause can create Arterio-Venous shunts.

Researchers have not been able to determine a cure for varicose veins, but there are treatments that can alleviate some of the problems of varicose veins.

Surgery can be used to treat severe varicose veins. This technique is called vein stripping. This is usually done under local or partial anesthesia. This surgery involves inserting a flexible implement through the varicose vein. When the implement is taken out, the varicose vein is removed with it.

There are two endovenous procedures that can be used to remove severe varicose veins in the legs or thighs. These techniques are less invasive than vein stripping and do not require an overnight stay. Both procedures require the insertion of a device inside the varicose vein. The endovenous radio frequency closure procedure uses a catheter to transmit radio frequency energy to seal the varicose vein. The endovenous laser procedure uses a diode laser to transmit laser energy to seal the varicose vein. In both cases, the varicose vein will turn into scar tissue and eventually fade away in several weeks. After either procedure, a person could resume his or her normal routine the very next day.

The most common treatment used to eliminate severe varicose veins is sclerotherapy. This procedure requires no anesthesia and does not require an overnight stay. A solution such as sodium tetradecyl sulfate, hypertonic saline, or aethoxyskerol is injected into the varicose vein. This solution will seal the vein walls and stop the blood flow. Then the varicose vein will turn into scar tissue and eventually fade away in several weeks. Additional treatments may be required for some cases.

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