What causes varicose veins?
f you’ve noticed that the veins in your legs and thighs have become abnormally thick and enlarged, you might be suffering from varicose veins. This condition affects around 25 per cent of the adult population, especially women in their 20s to 40s.
“Varicose veins develop when your blood vessels become dilated and tortuous – full of twists and turns. They occur most commonly in the superficial veins of the legs,” shares Dr Ch’ng Jack Kian, associate consultant at the Department of Vascular Surgery at Singapore General Hospital. “Veins have a series of one-way valves that keep blood flowing in one direction towards the heart. When these valves become weak or faulty, the blood flows backwards, resulting in swollen veins.” “Lifestyle factors play a major role in the development of varicose veins. People who have jobs that involve standing for prolonged periods of time – think nurses, flight attendants and teachers – are at greater risk of developing varicose veins,” says Dr Ch’ng. “They are also more common in women than in men, and have a tendency to run in families.”
Other contributory risk factors include a history of blood clots, obesity, hormonal factors and pregnancy, adds Dr Ch’ng.
What are some of the symptoms?
Besides having the appearance of enlarged veins, someone with varicose veins will commonly complain of swelling, heaviness, aching and cramping in the affected leg, especially after long periods of standing, says Dr Ch’ng.
If left untreated, varicose veins can result in complications such as lower limb eczema, hyperpigmentation, ulceration, bleeding and inflammation of the affected vein.
What are the treatment methods available?
“Varicose veins are easy to diagnose as they are usually visible. If the veins are small and not too uncomfortable, elastic compression stockings may be prescribed. These stockings, which should be worn daily, compress the veins and improve blood flow,” says Dr Ch’ng.
Other options include minimally invasive surgery. For smaller varicose veins and spider veins, newer methods like foam sclerotherapy are often recommended, while radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is used to treat superficial veins. For larger veins, a surgical procedure like Clarivein ablation is usually effective. Not only are these treatment methods less invasive, they are said to leave minimal scarring compared to older techniques.
How do I prevent them from developing?
LEAD A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE “Have a balanced diet and exercise regularly. This will keep your weight under control and your leg muscles toned in order to facilitate the smooth flow of blood,” Dr Ch’ng advises. STRETCH MORE AND OFTEN “If your job keeps you on your feet, stretch your leg muscles often to promote circulation. This can help delay the onset of varicose veins,” he adds.