Varicose Veins: Not Just for Adults
Varicose veins frequently are an inherited condition that even children can develop. Although severe cases of varicose veins aren’t common in children, if your child has bulging leg veins or experiences symptoms associated with the condition, it’s time for a doctor to take a closer look.
The more you learn about varicose veins in general, the more you may understand why your child developed this medical condition that usually occurs in adults. Knowledge about the cause, symptoms, and risk factors may help prevent more serious complications from occurring.
Cause of Back Flow
Blood returning to the heart normally flows from the lower leg to the upper leg against the force of gravity. Miniature one-way valves within the lumen of these veins in combination with the normal muscular contractions that occur with movement, are what enable your veins to effectively pump the venous blood back towards the heart.
These venous valves in the leg serve as the mechanism that keeps the blood from flowing backward by acting as doors that close after blood passes through. When these valves weaken, back flow of blood known as venous reflux occurs, causing blood to pool in the veins.
When these valves ultimately fail, blood stays in the vein instead of moving forward. Pooling blood within the affected vein, results in an increase pressure within the lumen of the vein. It is this pressure that eventually causes the vein wall to stretch. The result is a varicose or dilated vein.
Risk Factors for Children
Contrary to popular belief, vein problems don’t only occur in older adults. The condition is generally considered an inherited disorder that can affect both male and female children, teens, and young adults. But since parents don’t generally expect children to suffer with varicose veins, the condition may go undetected for years, while it progressively worsens over time.
Besides a family history of vein disease, excess weight at any age can increase the risk of developing vein problems. In some children, varicose veins are associated with other degenerative vascular diseases that promote blood vessel abnormalities.
One such congenital disorder is Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome—a condition that can affect venous, arterial and lymphatic vessels. Venous abnormalities comprise only a portion of the defects that are often associated with Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome.
Symptoms of Vein Disease
Varicose veins aren’t always visible on the skin’s surface. Some children suffer from hidden varicose veins—a condition that can lead to eczema, skin discoloration, or swelling around the ankles.
Symptoms of varicose veins include a spectrum of symptoms that vary from the mildest of aching and heaviness in the legs all the way out to nocturnal leg cramping, restless leg syndrome and even venous ulcerations. Like adults, children can also experience such symptoms. While any of these symptoms can occur even if varicose veins aren’t visible, if an underlying vein problem goes untreated, an individual’s symptoms will generally continue to worsen in severity until some form of treatment is initiated.
Varicose Vein Diagnosis
During a medical evaluation for varicose veins, the doctor will first perform a duplex ultrasound of the child’s leg veins while standing up. This ultrasound allows the physician to see what vein issues are underlying the skin.
An ultrasound examination is an essential component of any and all properly performed vein evaluations because they look at the blood flow in the veins of the legs. Doctors use the test to diagnose venous insufficiency—a condition that occurs when the veins in the legs have problems pushing blood from the legs back up to the heart, generally due to a failure in the valve function in the leg veins.
Treatment Options for Children
Although not all varicose veins require medical treatment, when the condition causes discomfort, the best treatment option for a child usually is the same as for an adult. When a doctor recommends medical treatment, he or she may offer options based on the severity of the vein disorder and not whether the individual is a child.
Fortunately, by detecting and treating a vein problem early, complications can often be prevented. The good news is that many of the options available to manage or treat varicose veins are either noninvasive or minimally invasive.
If you are worried that your child may have hidden varicose veins, the team of medical professionals at the Sheen Vein Institute can perform an evaluation and recommend the appropriate treatment method.