Fairbanks specialist discusses causes behind varicose veins

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) Although an ordinary individual might not know much about vascular health, it is likely that they have at least heard the term “varicose veins”. Varicose veins are a symptom of a disease known as venous insufficiency.

Healthy veins (left) compared to veins suffering from venous insufficiency (right) (Center for Vein Restoration)

Venous insufficiency refers to the body’s inability to send blood from the lower extremities back towards the heart for re-oxygenation. Valves in the veins which open and shut may widen and become unable to close. When this happens, blood can pool in the veins -- leading to varicosity, spider-veins, as well as more threatening complications such as ulcers, bleeding, and a condition known as deep-vein thrombosis or DVT.

According to Linda Cofey, a registered vascular technologist at the Fairbanks Center for Vein Restoration, recognizing the signs and symptoms of venous insufficiency before varicose veins develop can ameliorate many of these complications before they arise. “Signs and symptoms are achy tired legs, heavy legs; people feel restless legs, cramping; sometimes your legs just feel really irritated by the end of the day, you feel like you need to put them up,” said Cofey.

Varicose veins are genetic but are triggered by environmental factors. At-risk groups include, among others, older people, people who are overweight, fly frequently, or are physically inactive. One of the most vulnerable groups, however, is women -- especially those who are pregnant or have had a child. According to Cofey, the hormones estrogen and progesterone, prevalent in women, may activate the condition.

Treatment options vary based on the type and severity of symptoms. Cofey first checks for signs of DVT, as its complications pose a high risk for patients who have it. Cofey uses her equipment and expertise to determine significant characteristics of DVT before treatment options are considered.

For varicose veins, different treatment options are also available based on where the vein is located, and which stage of venous insufficiency a patient is in, among other factors. Removal is a common option; however, other treatments exist. Radiofrequency ablation, in which a catheter is inserted into the vein and uses radio waves to emit heat and seal the vein, is also a viable treatment.

Cofey advises those experiencing symptoms to seek medical assistance. “Because, unfortunately, it doesn’t go away on its own, there’s nothing you can do to make those valves get closer together to start functioning.”

The prognosis for venous insufficiency varies; however, Cofey claims that patients who undergo treatment experience a better quality of life.

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