Whether your family has a history of varicose veins or you have only just discovered them, it’s important to know how they occur and what they could mean in the bigger picture of your health.

Myth: Nobody in my family has had varicose veins, so I won’t get them.

Fact: Studies show that one’s chances of developing varicose veins are very high when both parents were affected (up to 90 percent). However, it’s also been found that individuals with no family history still have a 20 percent chance of developing the condition.

Myth: Varicose veins are just a cosmetic problem.

Fact: Varicose veins generally occur when the valves in certain veins –– often in the lower limbs –– fail to close. These valves are supposed to push blood back up towards the heart, but when they cannot do the job anymore, the blood pools up in the veins causing them to bulge. Although the veins themselves are not life threatening, they are often associated with leg pain, itching, swelling, and fatigue.

Myth: To treat varicose veins, you have to have the vein removed –– OUCH!

Fact: Years ago, the only surgical treatment for varicose veins was stripping out (or surgically removing) the vein –– and yes, it was painful. These days a breakthrough in minimally invasive vein closure has made stripping out veins virtually obsolete. That breakthrough is catheter technology and the technique used to seal the vein is called ablation.

Applied through a catheter about the size of a spaghetti noodle to close the damaged vein, the procedure is typically covered by Medicare and most insurers, and can be performed in an office setting using local anesthesia.

Once the vein is sealed, the body naturally re-routes blood flow through healthier vessels and normal circulation is restored. Patients find pain and fatigue disappear almost instantly, and swollen veins begin to deflate in a week or two.

Dr. Alissa Brotman O’Neill, a surgeon with RWJ Vein & Vascular Center Hamilton, is a magna cum laude graduate from Harvard University. She is a board certified vascular surgeon and is a registered physician in vascular interpretation (RPVI). Dr. Brotman O’Neill specializes in minimally invasive aortic and peripheral vascular surgery as well as venous disease. She is a leader in her field. She has lectured at the state and national level and is published in her field.

RWJ Vein & Vascular Center Hamilton, 3525 Quakerbridge Road, Suite 2000, Hamilton. 609-570-2071. www.rwjhamilton.org.

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