The dangers of varicose veins

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FEATURE — Nearly 1 in 4 Americans have varicose veins. This condition is commonly seen not only in older adults but also in people with an occupation of prolonged sitting or standing, history of pregnancy and family history of vein problems. Varicose veins, however, are not just a cosmetic or symptomatic issue. In fact, new research suggests varicose veins may increase the risk of a serious health condition: deep vein thrombosis.

Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot that forms deep within the body’s veins. If the blood clot travels to the lungs, it can lead to a life-threatening problem called pulmonary embolism.

A recent study published by The Journal of the American Medical Association evaluated 425,000 people, more than half of whom were diagnosed with varicose veins. The researchers who led the study concluded that those with varicose veins were up to five times more likely to develop deep vein thrombosis.

It is not clear whether varicose veins cause a deep vein thrombosis or are simply associated with the condition, so more research is needed on the topic.

What does this mean?

“This is an interesting study because it brings to light that everyday varicose veins are not benign,” Dr. Jamison Jones, a cardiovascular specialist at Revere Health Heart of Dixie Cardiology said. “Research again suggests that varicose veins and their associated medical conditions may predispose people to blood clots.”

It’s a common misconception that varicose veins are only a cosmetic problem; they can pose serious health risks, and in fact, sometimes varicose veins aren’t visible at all. Roughly half of the varicose veins Jones sees in his clinic are under the surface of the skin and are only detectable with ultrasound technology.

“Because not all varicose veins are visible,” Jones said, “it’s important to see your doctor if you have symptoms of leg pain, discomfort, tightness, swelling, heaviness, fatigue, itching or cramping of the legs. These are all important signs of underlying vein problems.”

Avoid complications of varicose veins

Untreated varicose veins can lead to severe complications like deep vein thrombosis, but they can be avoided with proper treatment.

“In our clinic, we often see the advanced stages of vein problems with infections, sores and serious skin changes on the legs,” Jones said. “Far more common, however, are the slow-to-develop, debilitating, but treatable symptoms that come with vein problems.”

Jones said the symptoms of varicose veins gradually slow people down and keep them from being as mobile as they would like. He said:

They keep people from traveling, working or doing the things they love. We want to manage or treat varicose veins before they lead to a sedentary life style. When people become less active and less mobile they have far more medical problems, higher medical costs and it can shorten their life. Staying active is extremely important for good health.

Jones recommends making the following lifestyle changes to minimize and avoid complications of varicose veins:

  • Exercise. Poor blood circulation plays a key role in the development of varicose veins. Even something as simple as walking can improve health.
  • Elevate your legs. Improve circulation in the legs by elevating them to a level higher than the heart and avoid staying in one position for too long.
  • Invest in compression socks. Many people find relief with compression stockings.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Losing weight relieves pressure on the veins.
  • Eat a healthy diet. The Mediterranean and low sodium diet is great for heart health and can reduce swelling in the legs.

There are multiple options for the treatment of varicose veins and underlying venous insufficiency. If you experience symptoms, contact your doctor to discuss a treatment plan that works best for you.

•  S P O N S O R E D   C O N T E N T  •


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