There are two types of veins in the leg – deep veins that are assisted in their efforts by muscles and superficial veins that lay outside the muscle layer and close to the skin. The largest superficial vein is called the Great Saphenous Vein (GSV), which begins at the ankle and ends at the groin. While arteries carry blood from the heart to the extremities, veins return the blood back to your heart to be re-circulated. Small, one-way valves in the veins open to allow blood to flow upward, towards the heart, and then close to prevent it from flowing backwards.
Varicose veins occur when the valves in the superficial veins malfunction. Vein walls can lose their elasticity, caused by heredity, pregnancy, age or hormones which, in turn, can cause them to stretch. If this occurs, the valves in the veins may not be able to close properly, allowing blood that should be moving towards the heart to flow backward. This is called venous reflux. The blood collects in the lower veins causing them to enlarge and become varicose. They typically occur on the legs, anywhere from the groin to the ankle and appear as twisting, bulging, rope-like cords.
Leg symptoms of varicose veins include:
Symptoms can progress to include:
If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your physician right away, as treatment may be required.
Treatment for varicose veins
Endovenous laser treatment (EVLT) is a quick, minimally invasive laser procedure that is used to treat varicose veins. It is a procedure that can be performed in the doctor’s office, typically in less than an hour.
How EVLT works
First, ultrasound is used to map out the vein on your leg and then the doctor applies a local anesthetic to the treatment area. A thin laser fiber is inserted through a tiny entry point, usually near the knee. Laser energy is delivered through the laser fiber to seal the faulty vein. It does this by damaging the vein walls, shrinking them and closing the faulty area so that blood cannot flow through it. The bulging appearance is eliminated and blood is diverted to the normal veins in the leg.
After the procedure, you will be encouraged to begin walking immediately and normal daily activity can be resumed. Your physician will advise you when you can resume more rigorous activity such as gym workouts. Bruising or minor discomfort may follow the procedure and can be treated with over-the-counter, non-aspirin pain reliever as needed.
The success rate for EVLT is 93-98% and benefits of EVLT include convenience with no hospitalization required, uses only local anesthetic, no scarring, low risk of complications and fast return to normal activities—usually one to two days.