Varicose veins can be unsightly and may cause discomfort or pain. In some cases, they can even lead to serious health problems. Understanding more about varicose veins can help you decide how to better deal with them. Ulises Baltazar, M.D., board-certified vascular surgeon with Houston Methodist Cardiovascular Surgery Associates, answers some commonly asked questions.

Q: What are varicose veins?
A: They are enlarged veins that may be blue, red or flesh-colored and occur most often in the legs. They may appear twisted and bulging and may be raised above the surface of the skin. 

Q: What causes them?
A: Varicose veins may be caused by weak, damaged, deformed or missing valves in the veins. Your leg muscles push blood back to the heart against gravity. Normally, valves in your veins keep your blood flowing forward to return it to your heart. But if the valves aren’t working properly, blood can leak back into the veins and pool there. When backed-up blood makes the veins bigger, they can become varicose.

Q: How common are they?
A: Varicose veins affect half of the 50 years and older population. They are more common among older people, people who are overweight or obese, those who sit or stand for long periods and women.

Q: When should I see a health care provider about varicose veins?
A: You should seek treatment if varicose veins cause pain or aching; a vein is red, swollen, very tender or warm to the touch; the skin on your calf and ankle becomes thick and changes color, or has sores; a varicose vein begins to bleed; or your symptoms interfere with your daily activities.

Q: How are varicose veins treated? 
A: Varicose veins are treated in the following ways:
• Self-care— Getting regular exercise that uses the legs; eating a low-salt, high-fiber diet; maintaining a healthy weight; and elevating your legs when resting may help ease pain and keep varicose veins from getting worse. 
• Compression stockings— Over-the-counter or prescription-strength compression stockings squeeze your legs, helping blood move more efficiently.
• Sclerotherapy— A doctor injects a solution into the veins that scars and closes them. In a few weeks, the veins should fade away, but additional treatments may be required. This procedure may be used for small or medium-size varicose veins.
• Laser treatment— Very strong bursts of light are sent through the skin to the veins, making them slowly fade and disappear. This is usually only effective for small veins.
• Catheter-assisted procedures— A doctor threads a tiny tube called a catheter into a vein, then uses either radiofrequency or laser energy (heat) at the tip of the catheter to close off and seal the vein as the catheter is removed. This treatment is effective for large varicose veins.
• Ambulatory phlebectomy— This is another surgical procedure that involves removing veins through small incisions, but only the parts of the leg that will be pricked are numbed with anesthesia.
• Vein stripping— A long vein is surgically removed through small incisions; general anesthesia is often required. This procedure is usually reserved for very large veins. 

You don’t have to live with the discomfort and embarrassment of varicose veins. For an appointment with Ulises Baltazar, M.D. call 281.240.8400.

Join Dr. Ulises Baltazar on Thursday, Jan. 26 at 6 p.m. for a vein seminar at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital’s Brazos Pavilion Conference Center. He will be speaking about the causes, symptoms, risk factors, treatments and prevention of varicose and spider veins. Registration required. Register online at or call 281.274.7500.