Doctors perform a surgery on varicose veins at 115 People’s Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy of Nguoi Lao Dong
Varicose veins, a cosmetic and painful condition, has become common among people engaging in fewer physical activities, but they often fail to be treated because they are not seen as a serious problem initially.
Varicose veins happen when the leaflet valves in the legs, which are supposed to keep blood flowing up toward the heart, stop functioning properly. That leaves blood to collect in the legs, pressure builds up and the veins become weak, large and twisted.
The condition often runs in families, more likely with aging, in overweight, pregnant people and those working in jobs that require a lot of standing like office workers, drivers, teachers, sales assistants and traffic police officers, doctors said.
It is hardly life-threatening at the beginning, doctors say, although it makes the legs look ugly and can be very painful. Initially, the severe consequences are swelling of legs and thickening of skin. Left untreated, the condition can develop more serious complications like ulceration.
A 57-year-old mechanic from Ho Chi Minh City, only identified as V.D.L., went to different hospitals after his legs, with prominent veins, felt heavy and fatigued. They went numb in the evening and made it impossible for him to stand properly. Sometimes he could not even press the motorbike brake or turn the gears.
He kept being diagnosed with strains and nerve inflammation, but the treatments did not work. It was only recently that doctors concluded that he had chronic varicose veins.
Another patient from the city, a 37-year-old office worker, thought that she had anemia or low calcium as she suffered constant cramps and her legs usually felt tired at sleep.
She only visited the hospital and received proper treatment after the condition worsened and the veins in her leg became quite noticeable.
Heart specialists say varicose veins are found in around 25-35 percent of the population, according to a report in the Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper. It also cited doctors as saying, globally, the condition is found in 30-40 percent of adults.
The Ho Chi Minh City Medicine University Hospital receives more than 7,000 cases every year, around 70 percent of them women and most of them above 35 years old.
A survey by the Thai Nguyen Medicine University in northern Vietnam of more than 275 lecturers found that the condition was found more among those who had longer working experience.
The highest infection rate of 57.7 percent was among the group of teachers who had worked for 20-30 years and the lowest rate of 20.8 percent was among those who’d taught for 10-19 years.
Varicose veins look dark blue, swollen, and twisted under the skin besides having mild symptoms like the feelings of heaviness, burning, aching, tiredness, or pain in the legs.
Doctors said the symptoms are not distinctive and often mistaken for those of joint or nerve inflammation.
Doctor Nguyen Hoai Nam, general secretary of Ho Chi Minh City Chest and Cardiological Surgery Association, cited a survey by the Ho Chi Minh City University of Medicine showing that 77.6 percent of the patients were not aware of the disease and reluctant to seek treatment, believing it would go by itself.
Most medical practitioners that they consulted also overlooked the problem, which resulted in more than 91 percent of the patients not receiving treatment and 8.7 percent not receiving the right treatment. For instance, some patients were just given painkillers and no other advice or medication.
Nam warned that ulceration is not the worst scenario.
He said after a long time, embolisms can be formed, and as they move towards the heart, they will block arteries in the lungs, which can be fatal.
Patients thus need to take any chance to rest their legs, put them high to prevent the formation of blockages and increase the speed of blood flow.
Dr. Cao Van Thinh, head of the chest and veins department at the 115 People’s Hospital, said varicose veins can happen anywhere in the body, but are more commonly found in the legs where the veins are longer, more complicated and affected more by gravity.
His colleague at HCMC Medicine University Hospital, Le Phi Long, said most patients only received the right treatment during the last stages of the disease, making the process complicated. He said accurate diagnosis in early stages is the best way to go.
Treatments include medicine to strengthen the veins, wearing special socks to press and close the valves and facilitate blood pumping back into the heart, and surgery to close faulty valves or remove embolisms.
Doctors say early treatment can completely cure the condition in 12-18 months.
They said one can prevent the condition by not gaining significant weight, standing for a long time or wearing high heels; adopting a diet rich in fiber and vitamins and doing regular exercise like jogging and swimming.
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