Varicose veins should be treated without delay

Varicose veins should be treated without delayBad Bertrich, Germany - Women in particular are bothered when red clusters of small veins appear near the surface of the skin on their thighs or in the hollow of their knees. Though the condition, known as spider veins, is not a medical problem, many people find it unsightly and visit a doctor.

It is a good thing that they do, noted Michael Wagner, president of the German Vein Association (DVL) in Bad Bertrich. "Spider veins can be a sign of deeper, and hence unseen, varicose veins," Wagner said. Various veins should be treated as soon as possible so that phlebitis (vein inflammation) or impaired circulation does not develop.

Every day, the veins in a person's legs have to carry several thousand litres of blood back to the heart against the force of gravity. The veins have one-way flaps, called venous valves, that are a few centimetres apart.

"They ensure uniform distribution of pressure and prevent the blood from flowing back into the legs," explained Hans-Joachim Florek, president of the German Vascular Surgery Society in Berlin.

This system functions properly only when all the venous valves fully cover the veins' diameter.

Connective tissue in leg veins is under strain because a person's legs bear the entire hydrostatic pressure of the body. If the tissue stretches due to a hereditary weakness, for example, the veins also lengthen and widen. They become gnarled, and the venous valves can no longer close fully.

"The blood flows backward and presses against the valve below, which can hold it for a limited time only," Florek said.

A person with varicose veins does not always notice right away that something is wrong.

"Subjective discomfort such as a feeling of heaviness in the legs, tiredness, itching or also a dragging pain, occur at very different moments in the course of the illness," Wagner said. "Should they arise, a doctor should be consulted immediately."

An ultrasound test is almost always the means of diagnosis. "The location of the defective veins and extent of damage is determined," noted Eberhard Rabe, president of the Freiburg-based German Society of Phlebology. If the deep veins are continuous and intact, the defective superficial veins can be removed.

In Germany, the most frequent removal procedure by far is "stripping," in which the defective veins are pulled out of the leg. Alternatively, varicose veins can be obliterated using a laser or ultrasound.

Doctors often prescribe compression stockings as a supplementary measure. As they squeeze the legs, the stockings cause the leg veins to narrow so that the venous valves close completely and blood does not flow backward and pool.

"Compression stockings are often uncomfortable, especially in warm weather," remarked Ursula Sellerberg, spokeswoman for the Berlin- based Federal Union of German Associations of Pharmacists (ABDA). Nevertheless, wearing them is a must after vein stripping.

"During the operation, lateral branches are unavoidably torn away from the main vein," Florek said. A compression stocking must therefore be put on immediately afterward and worn for six weeks. It causes the branches to link up and facilitates healing. (dpa)