ROCHESTER, Minn. — With spring break shorts and swimsuit season coming up, many people will soon show off their legs for the first time in months, and for some, that also means deciding what to do about unsightly varicose veins. The bulging purple or blue lines may be simply a cosmetic issue, or they could be a sign of a serious medical problem, says Mayo Clinic vascular surgeon Peter Gloviczki, M.D.
VIDEO ALERT: Additional audio and video resources, including excerpts from an interview with Dr. Gloviczki, are available on the Mayo Clinic News Blog.
"Twenty to 25 percent of Americans have varicose veins and about 6 percent have more advanced venous disease including skin changes or, occasionally, ulcerations," says Dr. Gloviczki, who helped develop Society for Vascular Surgery and American Venous Forum national guidelines for the treatment of varicose veins. "Evaluation of varicose veins with ultrasound is an easy and accurate way to assess the need for treatment. New, minimally invasive therapy is available today that is effective and is performed as outpatient treatment."
Varicose veins typically appear in the legs, ankles and feet, because standing and walking put more pressure on veins in the lower body. Enlarged veins can ache, itch and burn. The loss of vein elasticity through aging may cause varicose veins, and pregnant women often develop them. People who are obese, sit or stand for long periods or have a family history of varicose veins also are likelier to get them.
Varicose veins can lead to more serious problems such as swollen legs, skin changes, bleeding from varicose veins, blood clots (phlebitis) and ulcers. Exercising, losing weight and elevating the legs can ease pain and prevent varicose veins from worsening. Special hosiery called compression stockings that squeeze the legs, improving blood flow, is often suggested before medical procedures are pursued.