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When the weather finally warms up, nothing can beat the feeling of the sun and summer warmth on your legs in a pair of shorts. It really does feel like the end of hibernation for your legs after months and months of being covered up.

But if you are one of the estimated 25 million Americans affected by varicose veins, you may not be looking forward to shorts season.

"Many people dealing with varicose veins are embarrassed and self-conscious about their appearance. When a vein becomes varicose, most commonly in the legs and ankles, it bulges out from the skin's surface and often takes on a twisted, ropy appearance," said Edward L. Batzel, M.D., a vascular surgeon and medical director of the vascular laboratory at Geisinger-Community Medical Center, Scranton.

You arteries carry blood from your heart out to the rest of your body. And veins return that blood back to your heart so it can be recirculated. In order to return blood to your heart, the veins in your legs work against gravity.

"One-way valves in your veins keep the blood flowing from your legs up to your heart. However, when these veins don't work as well as they're supposed to, blood collects in your legs and pressure builds up. If this occurs, veins become weak, large and twisted, resulting in varicose veins. If the condition goes uncorrected, leg pain, swelling, brown pigmentation and ulceration may develop," Dr. Batzel explained.

Some factors increase the likelihood of someone developing varicose veins. The risk of varicose veins increases with age, due to age-related wear and tear on the valves in the veins. Women are more likely to develop them. Being overweight or obese puts an added pressure on your veins. Sitting and standing for long periods of time can also promote varicose veins - the blood in your legs doesn't flow as well when you're in the same position for long periods of time. In addition, varicose veins can run in your family.

Varicose veins and spider veins, which are a common, mild version of varicose veins, are a cosmetic concern for many people. But the good news is that if you are self-conscious about your varicose veins, you don't have to continue to keep covered up. You can do something about them now before summer begins.

"Varicose vein treatment may involve self-care measures or procedures performed by a physician," said Dr. Batzel.

Some of the things you can do on your own to address varicose veins are relatively easy.

"Self-care for varicose veins can include addressing some of the risk factors for them. That means exercising, losing weight, not wearing tight clothes, elevating your legs, and avoiding long periods of standing or sitting. Doing these things can ease pain and prevent varicose veins from getting worse," Dr. Batzel said.

If those remedies aren't enough, your doctor may recommend you wearing compression stockings before moving onto more rigorous treatments. This involving wearing compression stockings all day, which squeeze your legs and ultimately help your veins and leg muscles move blood back to your heart more efficiently. You can consult with your pharmacist to purchase the best size and fit of compression stockings.

If self-care and compression stockings don't address your varicose veins or if your condition is more severe, your doctor may recommend sclerotherapy or closure procedure.

"Sclerotherapy is a procedure that involves a chemical being injected into a varicose vein, which scars and closes the vein. Treated veins usually fade in a few weeks, although the same vein may need to be injected more than once," explained Dr. Batzel.

Sclerotherapy is effective if it's done correctly. Bonus - it doesn't require anesthesia.

"Varicose veins can also be treated with radio frequency closure. This works by sending strong bursts of energy into the varicose vein via a catheter introduced through a small puncture, causing it to close and disappear," said Dr. Batzel.

Regardless of which form of treatment is best for you, the fact remains that you don't have to hide your legs this summer.
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