Division of Vascular Surgery
Vein Disease Requires Specialized Care
A conversation with Kellie R. Brown, MD
Medical College of Wisconsin Vascular Surgeon
Spider veins and varicose veins are common among men and women. People seek treatment for these vein disorders to alleviate pain and discomfort and/or to improve their appearance.
What are varicose veins and their symptoms?
Veins, the vessels that carry blood toward the heart, have valves to prevent blood from flowing backwards and keep the blood flowing to the heart. Varicose veins, most common in the legs, form when these valves become weak and don’t close properly, allowing blood to flow backward. The veins can become bulged with pools of blood.
Symptoms can range from very mild to severe. Some people have a feeling of heaviness, aching, itching, burning and swelling in their legs as well as fatigue, especially at the end of the day. In severe cases, varicose veins can rupture, leading to open sores (ulcers) near the ankle. Many people whose legs feel heavy and tired ignore their symptoms, believing this is just a part of aging.
What are spider veins and their symptoms?
Spider veins appear on the surface of the skin and may look like fine lines, “starburst” clusters or a web-like maze. They’re common in the legs and may also appear on the face. Spider veins may have no symptoms, or they may itch or burn. They can be found alone or in combination with varicose veins. Spider veins usually are a cosmetic concern for people vs. a health problem.
Who is affected by vein disorders?
While veins disorders occur in men and women of all ages, women tend to experience vein problems more often. The hormone estrogen plays a role in the development of spider and varicose veins in women. Women who have had many pregnancies tend to have more vein problems. Heredity also plays a role in varicose veins; if either of your parents had varicose veins, then you have a higher risk of having them. Varicose veins can also develop in some people who sit or stand for long periods of time.
Spider veins may be related to heredity, pregnancy, prolonged standing and sitting, injury and high vein pressure from varicose veins.
What is the Comprehensive Vein Clinic at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin?
The Comprehensive Vein Clinic specializes in the treatment of spider veins and varicose veins. Our team — a board-certified vascular surgeon and interventional radiologists combine their expertise and experience to treat each person’s unique vein disorder. Because patients often have other health problems, we work closely with other specialists at Froedtert & the Medical College and with patients’ physicians to coordinate care.
What treatment options does the Comprehensive Vein Clinic provide?
Vein disease is a medical problem, and each disorder is different. Depending on the vein problem, treatment may involve one or more procedures. Today’s advanced treatments — sclerotherapy, microphlebectomy and laser ablation — offer much more comfort and are much less invasive than those done in the past, such as vein stripping. All treatments are performed at the clinic. Most patients are able to resume normal activities the day after treatment or sooner.
Sclerotherapy, used to treat spider and varicose veins, involves injecting a solution directly into the veins. The solution irritates the lining of the veins, causing them to contract and collapse. Blood in these veins is directed back into deeper, normal veins.
Microphlebectomy involves making tiny incisions in the skin through which the varicose veins are removed. Stitches are usually not needed.
And laser ablation uses laser energy to seal and close a faulty vein. This allows blood flow to be diverted to other, normal veins. Laser ablation is a major advancement over the traditional method of vein stripping.
Can varicose veins lead to limb removal?
No. If you only have varicose veins, this means you have a problem with the valves in your veins, not with the circulation of blood in your legs. People who have severely blocked or narrowed arteries, the vessels that carry blood from the heart to the body, may have reduced circulation in their legs and require amputation. But blocked arteries are not related to varicose veins.
What should I consider when looking for a physician to treat a vein disorder?
Look for a board-certified vascular surgeon or interventional radiologist who has a primary interest in vein disease and dedicates part of his or her practice to it, and who uses the latest technology to treat vein disorders.
Can some vein disorders be prevented?
No. If you already have these vein disorders, however, you can prevent your symptoms from worsening. If your job requires you to stand or sit all day, and have normal blood flow, you may want to consider wearing compression stockings. Your physician will prescribe these for you. Walking can help to promote circulation, and elevating your legs after standing or sitting all day may help as well.