A Look at Leg Vein Problems & Treatments

By: Dr. Robert E. Foster
Director, BHC Vein Center

The Birmingham Heart Clinic Vein Center diagnoses and treats venous disease with minimally invasive procedures, resulting in less pain and quicker recovery for patients. Our goal is to quickly return patients back to a functional, painless lifestyle.

What is venous disease? About 40 million Americans suffer needlessly from venous disease which occurs in approximately 25 percent of women and 15 percent of men. Unfortunately, only 3 percent of those with venous disease have sought or received treatment that could distinctly improve their lifestyle. Venous disease occurs when diseased or abnormal veins cause blood to flow backwards in the veins of the leg. This causes stretching of the veins as well as leg swelling, pain and ultimately leg wound formation.

What are spider and varicose veins?   One of the most common visible signs of venous disease is spider veins which appear as small, purplish or blue clusters of veins on the leg. Varicose veins are larger bluish veins which may be painful due to engorgement when standing or sitting. Spider veins typically do not cause discomfort but if they do become painful, it is important to meet with a physician who is qualified in the diagnosis and treatment of venous disease. Although spider and varicose veins may be unsightly, many patients do not realize that these are outward signs of an underlying serious condition in the deeper vein system which, if not treated, may lead to increased risk for blood clots, swelling, skin color changes and ulceration.

What are the symptoms of venous disease? Venous disease may not present itself until leg pain or skin problems emerge. Venous disease symptoms may include the following:

  • Swelling or heaviness in the legs (especially in the evening)
  • Leg pain or cramping
  • Visible varicose or spider veins
  • Discoloration of the skin
  • Dry and weeping eczema
  • Leg ulcers
  • Restless legs

What if venous disease is left untreated? Venous disease can progressively worsen over time due to pressure created by the backflow of blood in the legs. This may lead to additional spider and varicose veins, and in some cases, it may lead to swelling and venous ulcers in the lower calf and ankle. If left untreated, venous disease can markedly affect quality of life by reducing the patient’s ability to sleep, walk or sit/stand for long periods of time due to severe symptoms of the legs. Even if only spider veins are present, you should consult a vein specialist to determine the problem so that it can be treated.

What venous services are offered at the BHC Vein Center?

  • Consultation with a vein specialist. Our vein team consists of vein specialists certified by the American Board of Venous and Lymphatic Medicine. They will evaluate you closely to assess the diagnostic and treatment procedures that are the best for your specialized needs.
  • Radiofrequency ablation. This minimally-invasive procedure is performed in the office using radiofrequency energy to apply heat to the vein through a thin catheter. This essentially “welds” the vein closed to prevent its ability to reflux.
  • Endovascular laser therapy. This is similar to ablation in that a thin catheter is inserted into the vein, but instead it uses a laser fiber to heat the vein wall.
  • This is an effective treatment for both spider and varicose veins. A medication (sclerosant) is injected into the affected vein causing it to shrink. Most patients require a series of treatments.
  • This procedure involves the removal of large visible varicose veins through small punctures in the skin.

If you think you may have venous disease, call the BHC Vein Clinic for a consultation at 205-856-2284 or visit www.birminghamheart.com.