SALT LAKE CITY — Tired and achy legs may not be the result of a busy lifestyle or just getting older, but could be a sign of something more serious and treatable.
Venous insufficiency also doesn't just happen to women or the elderly. It is no respecter of age or gender and can cause intense leg pain and discomfort, as well as unsightly varicose veins, said Dr. Shane Lewis, a surgeon at Intermountain Healthcare's Alta View Hospital.
Treatment for such problems, which now involves less invasive measures, is becoming more common as "people are starting to learn they don't have to live with these ugly legs that also cause a lot of discomfort," Lewis said.
Insurance companies also tend to cover treatment more often than not because maintaining good blood flow in the legs is important to overall health.
If certain vein issues go untreated, people can end up with ulcers and non-healing leg wounds, which can become infected or cause other problems, Lewis said.
"It's a medical problem if your legs are tired and achy and you can't enjoy the things you normally enjoy doing," he said.
Lewis and Dr. Joseph Fyans, a specialist in physical medicine, will be featured on Saturday's Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Hotline. They will take questions about leg pain and the symptoms and treatment for varicose veins. From 10 a.m. until noon, those interested are welcome to call 800-925-8177 or post questions on the Deseret News Facebook page, www.facebook.com/deseretnews.
The most common procedure to remove varicose veins, Lewis said, isn't as "barbaric" as vein stripping can be, but involves placement of a tiny catheter that heats the vein to shut it down.
The results are identical to that of vein stripping, relieving the vein of pressure, but provide fewer side effects and allow the patient to be up and running in less time. Blood flow is left to a deeper venous system in the legs.
Spider veins, Lewis said, can also be treated, but are more of a superficial or cosmetic issue.
A physical examination and simple ultrasound can identify where blood is pooling and which veins are not working correctly. Symptoms of venous insufficiency, he said, include tired, achy legs, some swelling and sometimes a persistent itch in a particular spot.
In his practice, Lewis said he has treated women and men of many ages, but also young patients who are athletes and are in good shape.
Varicose veins, he said, are partly caused by poor genes, but can also be brought on by aging and a sedentary lifestyle. Pregnancy and obesity are also contributors, as weight gain and improper weight can restrict blood flow throughout the body.
"Over time, the veins widen and branch out, not returning blood to the heart," Lewis said, adding that he recommends compression stockings to any age group as a prevention measure.
The socks, often worn by professional athletes, can help with symptoms and sometimes prevent problems, but can't treat the disease once it is present.
Exercise and staying active is likely the best medicine for the prevention of leg pain. Lewis said individuals who sit at a desk all day for work might benefit from standing and walking as much as possible, but also pumping the legs and stretching to keep blood flowing properly.
"People think of varicose veins and they think of their grandmothers," he said. "That's not necessarily who suffers from it. It's women in their 30s and 40s, those who've had multiple pregnancies, and anyone with the genes or certain occupations can develop varicose veins. Fortunately, we can get most anyone back to activity."
Saturday: A look at symptoms of leg pain caused by nerves, muscles, joints and skeletal issues
The Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Hotline focuses on leg pain and the symptoms and treatment of varicose veins. From 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dr. Joseph Fyans, a physical medicine specialist, and surgeon Dr. Shane Lewis, will answer questions from the public. Anyone with questions can call 800-925-8177 or post a comment during that time on the Deseret News Facebook page, www.facebook.com/deseretnews.