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Free yourself from varicose veins

Varicose veins affect nearly two in three women by the time they reach their 60s.


By Gary Rosenthal, MD
September 5, 2018

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What should you know about bulging, enlarged or painful veins?

Sixty percent of adults suffer from varicose veins. They are unsightly and uncomfortable – but they can also affect your health. Varicose veins are twisted, enlarged veins near the surface of the skin. They most commonly appear in the legs and ankles.

If left untreated, varicose veins can cause a whole lot of discomfort. Sometimes, they can lead to more serious medical problems, such as ulcers and bleeding. You can ask an expert about your treatment options at a HealthPartners or Park Nicollet clinic near you.

What causes varicose veins?

Many veins in the body contain one-way valves to control blood flow. For example, your legs have valves designed to keep blood flowing from your legs up toward your heart. These valves can grow weak over time. When they don’t work as they should, blood collects in your legs, and pressure builds up. As a result, the veins become even weaker, larger and twisted.

Who gets varicose veins?

Varicose veins occur in 60 percent of adults. While most common in women, men can get varicose veins too.

Risk factors for varicose veins include:

  • Pregnancy – particularly repeated pregnancies increase risk
  • Getting older – veins weaken over time
  • Being overweight – lower muscle mass provides less support for the veins in your legs
  • Genetics – varicose veins tend to run in the family
  • Prolonged sitting or standing – certain occupations are at higher risk
  • Blood clots – having high blood pressure also increases risk

Are varicose veins the same as spider veins?

No. While varicose veins and spider veins occur mostly in the legs, their appearance is the easiest way to tell them apart. Varicose veins are larger. They protrude and bulge, pushing the skin upwards. Spider veins are smaller by comparison and are underneath the surface of the skin.

Treatment for varicose veins and spider veins is also different. Varicose veins need to be surgically treated, but spider veins can be treated by sclerotherapy or laser vein treatment.

Are varicose veins just a cosmetic issue?

No. Varicose veins signal that the valves in the leg are weak or damaged which affects circulation and can cause aching pain and discomfort. Sometimes, varicose veins can lead to more serious medical problems, such as ulcers and bleeding. Painful varicose veins, ulcers or blood clots often require surgery, plus lifestyle changes.

Does health insurance cover varicose vein treatment?

Yes. Most insurance plans will cover it. Since varicose veins are recognized as a medical condition and not a cosmetic issue, like spider veins, most insurance plans will cover treatment. Talk to your insurance provider before seeking treatment. Costs can vary based on your insurance plan’s deductible. But, typically, 90 percent of varicose vein care is covered by insurance.

Can men develop varicose veins?

Yes. Often seen as a problem for women, men are also at risk to develop varicose veins. Although women have a higher likelihood of getting varicose veins, men can develop them, too. Genetics and age are key factors.

What five things mean it’s time to visit the doctor for varicose vein treatment?

  1. Your leg suddenly becomes swollen and painful. You might have a blood clot in a deep vein, which can be serious and may need prompt attention.
  2. The skin over a varicose vein begins to bleed. The skin over varicose veins is often thin and can bleed heavily. If this happens, elevate your leg and apply pressure directly to the vein to stop the bleeding.
  3. Your leg has a tender lump. This could be a clot or inflammation in a vein just under the skin, which is usually not dangerous but may need treatment.
  4. You develop an open sore (ulcer). Especially if it becomes tender and swollen. You may have an infection.
  5. Your varicose vein symptoms don’t improve with home treatment, or there are symptoms you are concerned about. Varicose veins are not just a cosmetic issue. If you are in serious pain or are experiencing symptoms of circulation problems, (numbness, tingling or stinging in the limbs) call your doctor immediately.

Make an appointment

Get the expert care you need from a varicose vein specialist in the Twin Cities or western Wisconsin.

HealthPartners: 952-967-7977

Park Nicollet: 952-993-2651

Find a HealthPartners or Park Nicollet varicose vein clinic near you.

About Gary Rosenthal, MD

Originally from Alabama, Gary began the Vascular Surgery division at Regions Hospital and HealthPartners in 2001. He is the Site Assistant Program Director for the University of Minnesota General Surgery Residency at Regions Hospital, and is very involved with vascular surgery training for fourth year University of Minnesota surgery residents. At Regions Hospital, he performs a wide spectrum of procedures, including carotid endarterectomy, lower extremity bypass surgery, arterial trauma repair, aortic aneurysm repair mesenteric reconstruction, dialysis access, varicose vein surgery and lumbosacral spinal exposure surgery.

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