One of the many important questions individuals thinking about visiting a vein specialist have is how this physician diagnoses varicose veins. Understanding the basics of these unwanted blood vessels and what a diagnosis involves often helps put prospective patients at ease.
Varicose Vein Overview
The raised, ropelike appearance of varicose veins can undermine a person’s self-confidence. Although these blood vessels appear to sit on top of the skin, they actually form under it. According to the Society for Vascular Surgery, as many as 35 percent of Americans develop these blue or purple veins. The University of California San Francisco indicates that varicose veins form when one-way valves in veins become weak or damaged. A defective valve allows blood that should be traveling to the heart to seep backward toward the extremities. Pooled blood causes pressure that expands the vessel, potentially resulting in a varicose vein. Although these abnormal blood vessels are often linked to genetics or aging, a vein doctor might also suggest risk factors such as hormone replacement therapy, carrying excess weight, or prior venous surgery. The path to a diagnosis and effective treatment begins with visiting a vein clinic for an evaluation by a vascular specialist.
Diagnosis from a Vein Doctor
Vein specialists have five potential tools to make a diagnosis of varicose veins, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. All of them usually occur on an outpatient basis:
- Complete medical history: The physician will want to know about any family history of varicose veins and about prior illnesses, surgeries, and medications.
- Physical exam: It includes taking a look at the patient’s legs while he or she is standing to see if there is any swelling. A vein doctor also typically asks the individual to describe any aches or pains in the legs.
- Duplex ultrasound: This vascular ultrasound procedure allows physicians to evaluate a patient’s blood flow and the anatomy of leg veins. Vascular specialists often use it to visualize deep varicose veins before treating them. The name “duplex” indicates that this diagnostic technique uses two kinds of ultrasound.
- Triplex ultrasound: Doctors sometimes also call this technique color-flow imaging. The experience for the patient is similar to that of duplex ultrasound. However, the triplex procedure relies on color to map the direction in which blood flows.
- Magnetic resonance venography: MRV combines use of a computer plus large magnets to examine a patient’s veins. It requires injecting dye into blood vessels to better visualize them. Physicians also use this procedure to diagnose other potential reasons for leg pain.
The correct diagnosis has a crucial role in choosing the best treatment for varicose veins. For example, ultrasound can tell a radiologist whether a targeted varicose vein is an acceptable size and in the right position for sclerotherapy or requires a different treatment option.