If you are experiencing a problem with your veins, it can affect your circulation and pose serious threats to health. For the best possible outcome, put yourself under the care of a primary care doctor when you first notice something amiss. If the treatment of your vein-related condition is beyond the scope of a general practitioner, you'll be referred to a phlebologist, a vein specialist with an array of tools that can make a big difference in your condition.

What is a phlebologist?

A phlebologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of an array of diseases affecting the veins. These include, but are not limited to, varicose veins, leg ulcers, vascular birthmarks and clotting disorders. This specialist usually has a background in vascular disorders, hematology or dermatology. The goal of his or her intervention is to maximize the healthy flow of blood throughout the body.

Reasons to see a phlebologist

Certain symptoms will indicate you need to see a phlebologist. The most common is the appearance of swollen protruding veins that are bluish in color, which indicate the development of varicose veins. In addition, night cramps in the calves, heaviness in the legs and spider veins in the feet, as well as swollen feet and ankles, are all maladies that can benefit from this specialist's expertise.

Some patients mistakenly believe varicose veins are strictly a cosmetic problem rather than a health disorder. Actually, the condition can lead to leg ulcers and blood clots, a medical problem that is potentially life threatening. A phlebologist uses certain procedures that are invaluable in resolving the disorder and reducing the likelihood of complications.

What does a phlebologist do?

A phlebologist will make a diagnosis based on your medical history and the results of a physical examination, venous imaging techniques and laboratory testing. If you have a varicose vein, your doctor may prescribe compression stockings because they may temporarily relieve the problem. When further treatment is required, he or she may seal your vein shut using a laser or an alternative energy source.

Another treatment option for varicose veins is sclerotherapy, a procedure that involves injecting a chemical into the blood vessel, thereby destroying it. Ultrasound-guided sclerotherapy will be used if your diseased vein lies below the surface of the skin. In some cases of the condition, the preferred treatment is surgical removal.

How is a phlebologist certified?

The American Board of Venous & Lymphatic Medicine (ABVLM) offers certification in Phlebology. Doctors who attain this credential have completed the required training and successfully passed the examination. Certification is awarded only for a 10-year period, so phlebologists must engage in continuing education to maintain their status. If your specialist has this important qualification, it indicates he or she possesses the expertise needed to provide quality care. You can verify a doctor's certification by checking the ABVLM's database.

Referral and research

Schedule a visit with your family doctor once symptoms of varicose veins develop. If your condition is very mild, you may not need to consult a specialist. On the other hand, if your condition has advanced enough to warrant further medical attention, your doctor will either suggest a phlebologist he or she trusts or leave the choice up to you. If the latter happens, online reviews can be a helpful resource in guiding your selection. The recorded experiences of other patients can raise red flags about a doctor you are investigating, or they can reassure you that the specialist is competent.

Questions you should ask your phlebologist

At your first appointment with your phlebologist, ask questions that will help you understand your condition and its treatment. The following inquiries may be helpful:

  • What causes varicose veins?
  • Can anything make them worse?
  • What symptoms should I expect if they progress?
  • Can serious problems arise from a lack of treatment?
  • Is it possible to treat varicose veins with medication?
  • What are the treatment options?
  • What tests will I need to undergo?

Regardless of whether or not a procedure is needed to treat your varicose veins, you will likely be advised to wear compression stockings. Consider asking the questions below:

  • How will the stockings help my condition?
  • Where may I purchase them?
  • What type of stockings is best for me?
  • How many hours per day should I wear them?
  • Will I always need to wear them, or may I discontinue them after a few months?

After you complete the tests the phlebologist has ordered, you will have a follow-up appointment. At this time, the doctor will likely recommend an appropriate treatment regimen. The following inquiries will help provide a clear picture of what to expect:

  • Why is the treatment a good choice for me?
  • Exactly how does it work?
  • Does the treatment have any adverse effects or risks?
  • What is the overall success rate of the treatment?
  • Where will the procedure be done?
  • What type of anesthesia is used?
  • How soon will I notice any improvement, and how long will it take to recover?
  • Is the treatment a permanent solution, or will the varicose veins come back?
  • What is the cost of treatment and will my insurance cover it?

A phlebologist has much to offer someone with varicose veins and other vein disorders. Your first step in the remediation of such problems is to make an appointment with a doctor.