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Defying Gravity

Gaining the high ground in the battle with varicose veins

(page 1 of 2)







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Apart from being an unsightly, uncomfortable and sometimes painful malady, varicose veins can also be a harbinger of more serious medical issues.

What are varicose veins? You don’t have to be “smarter than a fifth-grader” to understand that varicose veins can be explained using only the most rudimentary grasp of science.



Stopping just shy of congratulating those who come for a consultation, Dr. Attila Csordas seems to be adept at finding the silver lining in every medical cloud.

“You might call varicose veins a good thing,” the interventional radiologist with the Creighton Vein Center said with a wry wink. “That’s because what brings people to me is sometimes just the tip of the iceberg. Varicose veins are often the manifestation of more problematic issues with how blood moves through your body, issues that can eventually affect all of your veins in a way that is, by then, much more difficult to treat.”

Although relatively rare, complications from varicose veins can lead to painful ulcers forming around the affected area, usually in the ankles. The appearance of such ulcers along with thrombophlebitis, a sudden swelling of the leg that can trigger blood clots, should cause the sufferer to seek prompt medical attention.



“It’s all about gravity,” said Dr. Scott Wattenhofer of Omaha Vein Specialists and Omaha Vascular Specialists. “It’s as simple as that. Arteries deliver blood to the extremities and veins return that blood (now in its telltale, oxygen-deprived blue tint) to the heart to be reoxygenated and recirculated. The reason we see varicose veins most commonly in the legs is that it is an uphill battle from down there, and blood is a rather heavy liquid.”

Muscle contractions in the legs act as pumps, and elastic vein walls help blood return to the heart. Tiny valves in your veins open as blood flows back to the heart, then close to stop the blood from ebbing backward. Age may cause valves to lose their “oomph”, and vein walls may become less elastic, allowing blood that should be traveling north to dwell in the south.

Although the American South has always been known as the home of blue-blooded chivalry, the same cannot be said when it comes to blood that is quite literally blue if it pools in your veins, causing them to enlarge and become varicose.

Pregnancy is also a common cause of weakening in the veins. The total volume of blood in our bodies—well, maybe your body, but not the writer’s … that would really be a story of note if such an expectant condition were to occur—must necessarily increase during pregnancy, but it decreases in terms of flow from the legs to the pelvis.

photos courtesy of creighton vein center & omaha vein specialists


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