Fact or fiction: Varicose veins are just a cosmetic concern. There are several myths surrounding varicose veins. Many people who have varicose veins are embarrassed to talk about them or show their legs in public. Some even feel that they have done something wrong to cause their appearance. Even worse is that the majority of people think that varicose vein treatment is purely cosmetic — or that treatment simply doesn’t exist. Dr. Filiberto Rodriguez, MD, FACS, FAACS, RVT, RPVI, of RGV Cosmetic Surgery & Vein Center wants to debunk these misperceptions so that potentially dangerous health risks can be avoided.
Myth #1: Varicose veins are embarrassing
“People tend to be embarrassed about it because they think it’s their fault, and it’s not their fault. It’s just genetic,” Rodriguez said. “Secondly, it has nothing to do with diet and exercise.”
When it comes to varicose veins, one of the largest factors is family DNA. But what are varicose veins exactly? Rodriguez explained that there are little, one-way valves in the vein wall to prevent blood flowing backward because of gravity. However, they’re not always very strong.
“Those little valves are super delicate. They’re just little leaflets on the wall, so if the wall gets stretched and the little leaflets can’t touch, well, then the blood is going to go backward,” he explained. “Over time, it’s going to stretch the vein even more.” This causes the blood to go backward and pool in the legs because of the increased pressure. This condition, called reflux, is what causes the appearance of varicose veins. The likelihood of getting varicose veins is based mostly on genetic factors.
Myth #2: Varicose vein treatment is cosmetic
Varicose vein treatment isn’t vanity. Varicose veins are much more than a cosmetic concern, and leaving them untreated can lead to painful varicose vein disease. The beginning stages of varicose vein disease manifest themselves by the presence of leg heaviness, swelling, and pain. If this is left untreated, a person’s condition can become much worse.
“What happens if you don’t treat any of that — that heaviness and swelling of the legs starts turning into a brownish discoloration of the skin of the lower legs, and the skin starts changing and it becomes leathery,” Rodriguez said. “Once the skin starts dying, they get ulcers. And they’re really nasty, and they’re really hard to heal, and they get infected. Then, what happens with the varicose veins is that they get bigger and bigger, and people get blood clots in those varicose veins, and it gets very tender.” He said that sometimes varicose veins can even rupture spontaneously and cause massive bleeding through the skin.
Because of these issues, insurance companies will often cover treatments for diagnosed varicose veins.
Myth #3: There are no viable or affordable treatment options
In order for a patient to receive treatment, many insurance providers require a necessary ultrasound exam to diagnose the presence of varicose veins. Insurance often requires a referral from a primary care physician, who, in some cases, may not be aware of where a patient can get the ultrasound. However, it is perfectly acceptable to request a referral for specific vein specialists, if this is the case. When looking for a vein specialist, one indicator of official qualification is that they belong to the American Board of Venous & Lymphatic Medicine.
“That’s someone who literally has dedicated extra time, aside from their primary surgical specialty, to just focus on veins and the lymphatic system,” Rodriguez said.
After the ultrasound, patients typically have a six- to 12-week trial period wearing compression stockings before they receive the actual vein treatment. Dr. Rodriguez recommends planning ahead so that patients can take advantage of their copays and deductibles rather than waiting until the end of the year.
Once patients have waited through this trial period, they can return to their vein specialist for treatment. Official, qualified vein specialists today have state-of-the-art techniques to minimize scarring and recovery time, so getting vein treatment does not need to disrupt a patient’s life or cause additional suffering.
“In our clinic and in our experience, our patients recover really, really well,” Rodriguez said. “They have minimal bruising, minimal soreness, and they’re literally back to work and doing regular activities the next day.”
RGV Cosmetic Surgery & Vein Center