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Dr. Jack Oak, St. Luke's Hospital

Women have options for treating varicose veins

Statistics vary, but generally, about half of women in the United States suffer from some type of vein problem. Even more alarming, varicose veins affect half of people 50 years and older. Varicose veins are veins near the surface of the skin, usually in the legs, that have become swollen and can be seen and felt through the skin.

Veins carry blood from the legs back to the heart and contain one-way valves to keep the blood from flowing backwards. Varicose veins result when the vessel walls weaken or the valves fail, allowing the backwards flow of blood. The result: veins become enlarged, twisted and thickened.

In addition to being an obvious cosmetic problem, they can also cause severe leg pain or more serious health problems including sores or skin ulcers, bleeding, blood clots, rashes, tired legs and swelling when left untreated.

Fortunately, those suffering from varicose veins have treatment options. These include conservative approaches such as exercise (which can help with circulation), elevation of the leg (which can alleviate pain and reduce swelling) or elastic compression (which can help prevent the blood from flowing backwards).

If these methods do not produce desired results, a more aggressive treatment plan may be an option - many of which are often covered by insurance plans. Therapies include:
  • Sclerotherapy - a procedure in which a solution is injected into a varicose vein that scars and closes the vein. This procedure is not generally covered by insurance.
  • Endovenous thermal ablation - a minimally-invasive procedure in which a catheter is inserted into the vein and heat is applied. This heat causes the vein to collapse and scar, resulting in the blood rerouting to healthier veins.
  • Ligation - a procedure in which the vein is tied (ligated), cutting off a faulty valve. The vein may be left in place to continue circulating blood through other veins that still have valves that work properly.
  • Stripping - the complete removal of the vein through a series of small incisions.
Any varicose vein procedure carries risk. Consult with a physician who is professionally-trained on all forms of therapies.

Dr. Jack Oak is a board-certified vascular surgeon at St. Luke's Hospital. Call 314-434-1211 or visit his Physician Referral page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on March 24, 2011.

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