Varicose Vein Test Summary:

Varicose veins are a problem that afflicts millions of people.  They’re the outgrowths of veins in the legs that are malfunctioning, due to a condition known as chronic venous insufficiency or venous disease.  This results in pressure and blood pooling in the veins, and stimulates the branching out of the leg veins to find new pathways. In addition to the visible vein symptoms, serious health complications can develop progressively.  These include pain, irritation, skin conditions, leg fatigue, soreness, easy and profuse bleeding from the legs, skin ulcers, and potentially fatal blood clots. All of these problems can be avoided, though, with proper varicose vein treatment.  A visit to a varicose vein specialist doctor will typically include taking a history and asking about symptoms, a visual diagnosis of the varicose veins on your legs, and a varicose vein test. Most often, that’s a simple duplex ultrasound exam, which causes no pain, discomfort, or health risks.  After the vein doctor has mapped the varicose veins and underlying dysfunctional veins in your legs, they can craft a treatment plan for you. Modern varicose vein treatments are minimally-invasive, non-surgical means of vein removal. They use advanced medications and technology to effectively shut down the malfunctioning vein and associated varicose veins, allowing blood to be rerouted automatically through healthy veins, and removing the varicose veins (and the associated health risks) for good.

Introduction: What Do Veins Look Like?

Our veins are not something we think about every day, but they play a very important role in keeping us alive, active, and healthy.  As a critical part of the circulatory system, veins function by flowing oxygen-depleted blood from the blood vessels and organs back to the heart.  What do veins look like? Normal, healthy veins aren’t easy to see, for the most part. Some superficial veins are visible near the skin, and look like straight lines that are blue-green in appearance.  You can readily see these on the underside of your arm and wrist region, for example. But what about much more visible, prominent veins, that look twisted and knotted, and appear on the legs? Those are almost always varicose veins, and are a cause of genuine concern.  Read on to learn more about varicose veins, what they mean, and the varicose vein tests and treatments that are available.

How Varicose Veins Form

So what causes varicose veins?  How do varicose veins form? To answer those questions, you need to understand a bit about how healthy veins work, especially veins in the legs.  There are numerous valves in the veins, that open and close with each heartbeat. Combined with the pressures in the circulatory system, this helps blood in the veins (particularly the leg veins) to overcome the force of gravity, and work upward back towards the heart.  For that to work efficiently, the valves in the veins must close fully each cycle. Varicose veins form when those valves become dysfunctional and leak, allowing blood to fall back behind the valves each time they close, because they do not close fully. This increases vein pressure, and causes the veins to branch out, seeking new paths around the dysfunctional valves.  Varicose veins are those branches.

Vein Disease or Venous Insufficiency

The dysfunctional valves in the veins, along with the varicose veins that develop out of them, are symptoms of an underlying disease, called chronic venous insufficiency, or vein disease for short.  It’s serious, and does a lot more than just blemish the appearance of your legs with unsightly varicose veins. Sore veins, pain, itchiness, and discomfort can develop. Skin conditions like eczema can also develop and increase in severity.  As varicose veins become more prominent, they become more sensitive, and can break open and bleed profusely, and very easily. Even minor scratches, bumps, and bruises can become full-blown medical crises requiring a trip to the ER. Skin ulcers and wounds that won’t heal can also develop, especially on the lower portion of the leg.  Finally, blood clots can form, in a process known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT, and migrate to the lungs, causing a fatal pulmonary embolism.  

Varicose Vein Test Procedures

To avoid serious health risks, it’s necessary to see a vein specialist.  They can evaluate your condition, perform varicose vein tests, and propose a treatment plan to address not only the varicose veins, but the underlying venous insufficiency.  While a visual diagnosis is often instructive, there are several other varicose vein test procedures that may be used. A history and description of symptoms are typically taken, followed by a physical exam.  Then, varicose vein tests can include:

  • Duplex ultrasound, which is a simple, painless procedure with no injections or radiation involved.  Ultrasound and Doppler technology are used to map the path of varicose veins and the underlying saphenous vein system, which is primarily responsible for most varicose veins in the legs.  This is usually the only diagnostic varicose vein test needed to confirm venous insufficiency.
  • Magnetic resonance venogram, which uses an MRI scan, a contrast dye injection, IV, and local anesthetic.  It’s not typically used except in extreme circumstances, as other, less-invasive techniques like duplex ultrasound provide comparable results with less pain and risk to the patient.
  • CT venogram, which is similar to the magnetic resonance venogram described above, using a CT scan (X-rays) as opposed to the MRI to map the contrast dye and find vein blockages or issues.  It is also rarely used or necessary.

Are Varicose Vein Tests Necessary?

A duplex ultrasound is often the only varicose vein test that is necessary (in addition to a physical diagnosis and patient history).  Doctors can visually confirm the presence of varicose veins, and use the duplex ultrasound to map them and the associated dysfunctional veins.  That’s usually all the information that is needed to develop an effective varicose vein/venous insufficiency treatment plan. Learn more about what to expect when you visit a vein specialist for a varicose vein consultation, including varicose vein tests, by reading our guide.  

Varicose Veins Treatments

With the information on the varicose veins in your legs all mapped out, the vein specialist can craft a varicose vein treatment plan customized just for you.  Based on the size, number, and layout of the varicose veins and underlying dysfunctional vein(s), they may use one or more of the three most common vein treatment options.  These include:

  • VenaSeal, a medical adhesive that is injected into veins to block them, resulting in shutting down the vein, blood flow rerouting to healthy veins, and eventual reabsorption of the deactivated veins into the body.
  • Varithena, a type of medical compound that is injected into the veins to irritate the walls in the veins that are dysfunctional, and get them to collapse on themselves.  Blood flow reroutes automatically, and the now-shutdown veins are also reabsorbed safely into the body over time.
  • Endovenous radiofrequency ablation, where a small radio catheter is inserted into the diseased vein under local anesthetic, and radio energy is used to irritate the vein walls, getting them to collapse.

All of these treatments are safe, effective, and non-surgical, performed by vein doctors in an outpatient setting, and take less than an hour.  They have minimal downtime or recovery restrictions, and most cause little to no pain (just a needle stick in most cases).

FAQs about Varicose Vein Tests

Can varicose veins fully be treated?

Varicose veins can be fully treated by vein specialists at vein treatment centers.  By addressing the underlying venous insufficiency and using modern treatment options, both the visible varicose veins and underlying dysfunctional veins can be removed.

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are simply veins that have branched out and worked their way towards the surface of the skin, due to the venous insufficiency and increased pressure within the veins, as described above.  

What are the main causes of varicose veins?

Varicose veins are caused by the increased pressure in the veins from venous insufficiency.  There are risk factors that make them more likely to occur, such as with aging, being obese, during or after pregnancy, and sitting or standing most of the day.  

What are the types of varicose veins?

Varicose veins can be many different colors, sizes, and shapes.  If they are extremely small and more numerous, they are known as spider veins.  Larger varicose veins can be purple, blue, green, or red in color. They usually are highly twisted and knotty looking.

Conclusions about Varicose Vein Tests

Varicose vein tests performed by trained vein specialists are part of diagnosing and treating varicose veins and venous disease.  The standard is duplex ultrasound, which is painless and non-invasive. Combined with a patient history and visual diagnosis, that’s often all that is needed to confirm the presence of vein disease, varicose veins, and develop a varicose vein treatment plan.  There’s nothing to fear from varicose vein tests or treatments – the real fear should come from the health risks of varicose veins and venous insufficiency. So don’t delay, book an appointment for a varicose vein consultation.  To your health!