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Dilated leg veins are very common among the general community. There are three common types, frequently seen in combination. "Spider veins" are the finest and are usually fed by larger "reticular veins", which are found under the skin. "Varicose veins" are the largest, and often bulge above the skin surface. These are normally caused by a weakness in the vein wall.
Do dilated leg veins cause any adverse effects on the body?
Depending on the size, extent and degree of weakness of the larger veins, these veins - apart from being aesthetically unpleasant - can pose more significant problems. Symptoms may include heaviness, burning, aching, stinging, throbbing and cramps. Skin changes may occur, leading to patchy darkening in color, eczema, swelling and induration (hardening) of the skin, and even ulceration of the skin, which is very difficult to heal.
Why do abnormal veins develop?
A definitive cause is not known, however a strong family history suggests that some people inherit veins that are more likely to deteriorate. In women, estrogens may play a role at the onset of puberty and pregnancy, and taking oral contraceptive pills can also give rise to vein abnormalities. During pregnancy, the enlarged uterus can restrict blood flowing from the legs and promote the development of varicose veins. Spider veins and varicose veins are also associated with obesity. Occupations involving prolonged standing tend to increase the likelihood of dilated veins developing. Bone fractures and soft tissue traumas can also cause localized vein abnormalities.
How do these abnormal veins develop?
The blood in leg veins normally travels upwards towards the heart. Due to gravity however, blood tries to flow back down towards the feet. Normal veins have one-way valves, which close to prevent this back-flow of blood. It is the breakdown of these valves that leads to an abnormal flow, which in turn leads to increased pressure in the vein, causing the vein wall to expand and bulge producing varicose veins. The build up of back-pressure can then cause the formation of reticular and spider veins. Varicose veins serve no useful function in the body's circulation. Our body has the ability to establish alternative pathways to bypass the abnormal varicose veins. When varicose veins are closed down the circulatory system improves, as do many of the symptoms. It is important to understand that varicose veins can be a progressive condition and that totally new veins can develop with time.
Can vein problems be prevented?
If you are prone to vein problems, it is advisable you follow a healthy diet and lifestyle in order to maintain a normal weight. Regular exercise will also minimize the likelihood of further problems. Avoid standing for long-periods of time and wear specialized venous support stockings to ease symptoms and slow the progression of abnormal veins.
What treatment options are there for these abnormal veins?
It is now well-known that spider veins can be successfully treated with injection sclerotherapy. In the past, surgery was the only method of treatment for varicose veins, however time has proven that varicose vein surgery is plagued with complications, compared to current non-surgical treatment methods.
There are 3 main treatment methods available:
- Injection Microsclerotherapy - reserved for the treatment of small veins including spider veins.
- Ultrasound Guided Sclerotherapy (UGS) - reserved for the treatment of medium sized veins, bulging varicose veins and some hidden veins.
- Endovenous Laser Therapy (EVLT) - for large hidden varicose veins.
Some patients will require a combination of the above treatment methods in order to achieve best results.
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