The term varicose comes from the Latin root 'varix', which means twisted. Varicose veins are twisted veins that mainly affect the legs and the feet. As we know, veins carry blood from all parts of the body to the heart. The veins in our legs have to fight gravity while carrying blood to the heart. These veins have elastic walls which help them in returning blood to the heart. But with time, they tend to lose their elasticity and gradually stretch out. Due to this, sometimes, the blood flows back towards the legs and forms blood pools in the veins. Hence, these veins get swollen and rise above the surface of the skin. They appear like dark purple or blue colored, twisted or bulging cords through the legs.
Though the actual cause is still unknown, there are several factors that can lead to the development of varicose veins. Heredity or inborn weak vein valves is one of the greatest factors that can cause the condition. Hormonal changes at the time of puberty, pregnancy, menopause, etc., can develop the problem in women. Especially during pregnancy, the volume of blood in the body increases which causes these veins to enlarge. The enlarged uterus also adds more pressure on the veins. However, within 3 months after delivery, the veins naturally improve. Intake of estrogen, progesterone, and birth control pills may also lead to the development of varicose veins in women. Aging, obesity, leg injury, prolonged standing or walking, etc., are some other reasons that weaken the vein valves and cause the condition.
A heavy feeling, burning or throbbing feeling in the legs, are some common symptoms experienced by people suffering from varicose veins. Muscle cramps, itching, and swelling in the legs are some other symptoms also observed in these patients. Skin ulcers around the ankles can be another symptom that may cause swelling in the legs and ankles, and can be painful at night.
Though varicose veins do not cause any damage to the body, most people want to get rid of them due to cosmetic reasons. Sclerotherapy is one way of treating it, in which the doctor inserts a solution in the varicose veins that scar and close down the veins. Though, there are many treatments available, laser surgery is one of the most effective and popular treatment used for this condition.
Laser surgery functions by transmitting extremely strong bursts of light onto the vein, causing it to slowly fade and disappear. The lasers are highly accurate and damage only the affected area. The surgery is quite comfortable and painless, as there are no needles or incisions. When the laser strikes the skin, the patient only feels a small pinch. The skin is soothed by applying a coolant both before and after the treatment. The surgery depends upon the severity of the veins, and can last for 15 to 20 minutes. Usually, two to five rounds of treatment are required to completely cure the problem. There can be some redness or swelling or discoloration of the skin after the surgery, but this abates within a few days. Surgical ligation is another more specific laser surgery, in which the veins are tied shut and then entirely removed from the leg. Though different kinds of lasers are used, yellow light lasers, green light lasers and other intense pulsed light systems are most commonly used.
Varicose veins affect women more than men, and are quite common in older women. Though laser surgery is quite effective with fewer side effects and complications, one should always take the advice of an expert before undergoing the surgery. The cost of surgery varies as per the treatment employed, but it can cost approximately $300 - $450 for a session, for each segment of the leg.