What Are MIIPs? / Varicose Veins

What are veins?

Veins are blood vessels that usually carry blood towards the heart from the arms, legs, head, and organs in the body. Veins carry blood that is low in oxygen because the oxygen has been used up by the different parts of the body. When the veins carry the blood back to the heart, it pumps the blood to the lungs to get more oxygen from the air that we breathe.

Veins have thin walls and one-way valves to keep the blood from flowing backwards. Veins depend on the movement of the muscles of the legs and arms around them to pump the blood back to the heart.

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are abnormal, enlarged veins that allow the blood to flow backwards. The most recognizable varicose veins are those that occur in the legs, but any vein can become a varicose vein.

The veins can bulge through the skin like rope or look like blue or purple lines just under the skin. Tiny abnormal veins are called spider veins.

Varicose veins can cause no symptoms. Sometimes they can cause pain, a heavy feeling in the legs, or itching. In rare cases, varicose veins can bleed.

What causes varicose veins?

Varicose veins form when

  1. the walls of the veins are weak 
  2. the valves of the veins fail

Veins can become abnormal over time. Sometimes veins can be abnormal at birth. Veins can also become abnormal if a part of the vein gets narrowed or compressed, preventing blood from flowing to the heart. When blood pools in them, veins get larger and more twisted.

What factors are associated with an increased risk for varicose veins?
  • Gender: Women get varicose veins more often than men.
  • Weight: Overweight people have more pressure on their veins, which can cause the veins to stretch and make it harder for the blood to return to the heart.
  • Age: The walls and valves of the veins can get weaker with age, letting the blood back up in the legs. Loss of muscle in the legs can also lead to pooling of blood.
  • Genes: Varicose veins can run in families.
  • Activity: People who sit or stand in one place all day can get pooling of blood in their legs.
  • Pregnancy: The amount of blood in the body increases during pregnancy. The pressure of the baby on the veins in the belly can lead to swelling and sometimes varicose veins. These veins often go away after giving birth but sometimes they do not.

How can you prevent or improve varicose veins?
  • Lose weight
  • Wear compression stockings
  • Avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time
  • Exercise regularly

How can I get rid of varicose veins once I have them?

There are minimally invasive, image-guided procedures (MIIPs) to treat varicose veins. These MIIPs can be performed in the office by an Interventional Radiologist (IR) or other trained specialist:

  • Vein ablation: A tiny plastic tube called a catheter is put into the varicose vein and either heat or a laser collapses and seals the vein.
  • Sclerotherapy: A liquid or foam is injected into the abnormal veins to collapse them and cause them to scar down

Vein ablation and sclerotherapy are safe MIIPs. Blood can still get back to the heart through the deep veins in the legs. Your doctor will discuss the procedure with you in detail.

If the varicose veins are the result of back pressure from a narrowed or compressed vein deep inside the body, a MIIP may be needed to open up the vein. The MIIP is performed through a pinhole in the skin. The narrowed vein can be opened using a tiny balloon. If necessary, a metallic woven tube called a stent can be placed to keep the vein open.

For more information:

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