Varicose veins affect up to 3 in 10 adults in the UK1, with women more likely than men to get them. Varicose veins are swollen veins that are visible and can be felt underneath the skin. They can form in any veins, but are most common in the legs and feet. Varicose veins can cause a lot of discomfort and embarrassment for people, but depending on their severity and how much they’re impacting a person’s life, they can be left without intervention, although there are several options available to treat them.
Causes and risk factors
Varicose veins are caused by small valves in the veins that stop working correctly. A healthy vein allows blood to smoothly flow to the heart. Tiny valves open and close to let blood through, preventing it from flowing backwards. However, weak or damaged veins let the blood flow backwards, which results in blood collecting in the vein, causing it to swell and enlarge. This is what's known as a varicose vein. People who are pregnant, overweight, elderly or stand up a lot throughout the day are most at risk, but genetics also play a role, as varicose veins seem to run in families.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of varicose veins will vary from person to person2, and some won’t have any symptoms other than they can see and feel the veins. Skin may appear brown or purple, and legs can feel heavy, restless and itchy, particularly after standing for a long time. Legs, ankles and feet can become swollen3, and the skin may become dry, develop eczema and ulcers may form. The appearance of varicose veins is often described as bulging, twisting, highly-visible veins.
Treating varicose veins
There are several self-help measures you can take to reduce your risk of varicose veins, or to help relieve symptoms. People who are overweight are encouraged try to lose weight, and anyone experiencing symptoms is advised take light to moderate exercise and avoid staying in one position for too long, particularly standing. Sitting with your feet up and wearing compression stockings can also help. Laser therapy can help both the appearance and symptoms of varicose veins. It closes problematic veins and avoids the need for surgery, so you can get back to most daily activities immediately, including work.
Complications if varicose veins go untreated
Untreated varicose veins can lead to complications in some cases. As the veins are very full and near the surface of the skin, they are at risk of bleeding, even with a small cut, which can easily happen. These cuts can take longer to heal due to their location, and can result in ulcers, which need a lot of medical care and take a long time to heal. There’s also a chance of blood clots forming, which can result in red and painful veins. Finally, deep vein thrombosis can develop, which requires immediate attention from your doctor.
Varicose veins can really affect a person’s self-esteem, but can also be physically uncomfortable and painful. Self-care can help, but sometimes professional treatment is the best option.
There’s no time like the present to start your journey to feel more comfortable and confident by visiting a vein clinic. An initial consultation with Dr Faris who will review your symptoms and perform a colour Doppler ultrasound of your veins, to map the cause of your varicose veins and exclude a deep vein thrombosis. Once completed he will create a treatment plan specifically designed to address your needs.