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What Causes Varicose Veins?

Up to one third of women develop varicose veins-and this is not just a cosmetic problem.  For some women, these distended veins in the legs can cause pain, swelling, cramps, and even skin ulcers.

Varicose veins come from problems in the venous circulation of the legs-the veins responsible for bringing your blood back to your heart.  Because these veins are working against gravity, they depend upon the contraction of the calf muscles to keep blood moving.  Little valves in the veins make sure that blood goes in the right direction.  But if those valves malfunction, blood backs up-eventually veins swell and stick out of the skin, often with a twisted appearance.   "Spider veins" come from a similar problem with back-log, but they result from broken capillaries, very small blood vessels in the skin.

Heredity plays a role in vein problems, but aging, weight gain, a sedentary lifestyle, hormones and pregnancy can also contribute to the problem.  Prevention tips are important.  But can anything be done about them once they're there?  In most cases, treatment isn't necessary.  Some women elect treatement for cosmetic purposes, but others seek treatment if they're having leg pain or cramping. 

Treatment options include:

  • Sclerotherapy, (in which chemicals are injected into the vein causing it to collapse; it costs $250--$500 per treatment)
  • Vein stripping (cost  = several thousand dollars)
  • Endo Venous Laser Treatment (EVLT)-(this uses ultrasound to guide a thin catheter into the main vein of the lower leg; a tiny laser-tipped fiber is inserted through the catheter to deliver pulses of energy that seal the entire vein shut.  (Cost = apr. $2,000)

For more information, click here.

Created: 6/25/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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