More than 40 million people in the U.S. have varicose veins. And contrary to popular belief, it's not just your grandma's problem - the swollen, twisted veins can strike anyone at any age and it can lead to serious medical issues.
At age 29, Andreas Garcia doesn't fit the profile for someone with varicose veins.
"Never thought of it. It was just, oh my grandma had it. Okay, all old people have it. So it never really occurred that it would happen to me," Garcia said.
His first symptoms began at age 25 when his legs became tired, achy and heavy, but he didn't think much of it until they started to swell.
"My leg just started getting bigger and bigger, and then pain," he said.
Dr. Heather Hall says Garcia is not alone. Of the 40 million people in the U.S. who have varicose veins, 25 percent of them are men.
"So this is not a small problem. This is actually a very, very common problem," Hall, MD and vascular surgeon at Weiss Memorial Hospital, said.
One that's not just cosmetic. Garcia's veins got so bad he developed ulcers on both legs.
"It looked like raw meat. It would secrete puss and blood sometimes," he said.
That's when he took action and met with Dr. Hall for surgery.
"So again the blood flow should be from the feet towards the head. But in him since his saphenous vein is not working, the blood flow is actually going down the leg or refluxing," Dr. Hall said.
Dr. Hall first treated Garcia's wounds and then used lasers to remove and seal shut the varicose veins.
"And so, we actually improve the overall circulation by sealing that vein off," Dr. Hall said.
It's a quick, noninvasive surgery that put Garcia back on his feet again.
Garcia had the veins on his left side removed and is getting ready to have surgery on the right side. He's not sure why he developed them, but statistics show if both of your parents have varicose veins, you have a 90 percent chance of developing them. If one parent is affected, you have a 40-50 percent chance of developing them.
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BACKGROUND: When Andres Garcia started noticing the tired, achy, heavy feelings in his legs, he didn't think much of it. Then his legs started to swell and the veins began to bulge with thick, bluish veins that wrapped around his legs like tentacles. Andres was 25 years old. Contrary to popular belief, varicose veins aren't just your grandma's problem, 25% of the 40 million people who have them are men. It's not quite clear what causes them, but statistics show if both your parents have varicose veins, then you have a 90 percent chance of getting them, too.For the most part, they're harmless, but they can be painful and disfiguring. When they become inflamed they are tender to the touch and can cause problems with circulation that leads to swollen ankles, itchy skin, and aching legs. Andres' veins got so bad he developed ulcers on both legs.
HOW IT HAPPENS: One-way valves in your leg veins keep blood moving up toward the heart. When the valves do not work properly, they allow blood to back up into the vein. The vein swells from the blood that collects there, which causes varicose veins. Smaller varicose veins that you can see on the surface of the skin are called spider veins. Any condition that puts excessive pressure on the legs or abdomen can lead to varicose veins, such as obesity or standing too long. For women, hormonal changes from puberty, pregnancy, and menopause can lead to varicose veins, and taking birth control pills or hormone replacement can increase the risk. Varicose veins are rather superficial, which is good news, because it means if the surface veins begin to clump up and bulge, they can be removed or destroyed without ruining circulation to the leg. Doctors use lasers to remove and seal shut the veins in a quick, noninvasive surgery. For minor cases, there is sclerotherapy, a chemical injection that destroys the vein.
DEEP VEIN THROMBOSIS: Because varicose veins are on the surface, they don't pose a major health problem, but when problems arise on the veins deeper in your body, that can be dangerous. A blood clot in the deep venous system of the leg becomes dangerous when a piece of the blood clot breaks off, travels downstream through the heart into the pulmonary circulation system, and becomes lodged in the lung. A tendency to form blood clots can occur when people are not active, have a blood tendency toward clotting, or have injury to veins or their adjacent tissues.
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