Varicose veins

Varicose veins do not usually cause any serious problems but there are people who are unlucky in that their condition has resulted in complications. These complications require medical treatment.

Most cases of varicose veins are mild and do not usually need treating but sufferers of this condition find them both unattractive and unpleasant to deal with. In these cases, treatment is a good option.

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are swollen, lumpy looking veins with a purple or bluish colour which develop on the legs, usually the back of the calf muscles. If you have varicose veins then these may have developed if you spend a long period of time on your feet. Standing and/or walking is one of several causes.

This condition affects both men and women although women are more prone to developing varicose veins compared to men. The main reason for that is the influence of female hormones, namely oestrogen which relaxes the walls of the veins, causing the valves within to leak. This allows blood to flow back into the veins where it collects in a pool, resulting in swollen veins.

There are certain risk factors for varicose veins which include gender, age, being overweight, genetics and having a job which requires you to be on your feet for long periods of time. Another risk factor which is limited to women only is pregnancy.

Treatment for varicose veins

If you have varicose veins which are painful or itchy and are proving to be a major disruption in your life then treatment is necessary. Treatment options include:

  • Compression socks/tights
  • Endovenous laser treatment
  • Radiofrequency ablation
  • Sclerotherapy
  • Surgery, e.g. ligation and stripping

Compression socks are similar to those worn on long haul flights to prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT). They are a close fitting sock which is tighter around the lower leg than higher up which squeezes the leg, encouraging blood to flow upwards to the heart. This also improves the circulation.

Endovenous laser treatment uses short pulses of energy, via a laser, to heat and close a varicose vein. The laser is targeted at the problem vein where it emits short pulses of energy. These pulses heat up the vein, causing it to shrink and close.

Radiofrequency ablation also uses heat in a varicose vein. This heat or radiofrequency energy is emitted via a probe inserted into the varicose vein using a catheter. The walls of the vein heat up then collapse inwards, shutting down the vein. Blood circulation bypasses the closed vein and flows as normal around the body.

Sclerotherapy is a chemical based treatment in which a liquid or foam is injected into a varicose vein. This causes scar tissue to form in the vein, shutting it down. This sealed vein fades over time.

Surgery is usually performed in cases of large or particularly unsightly varicose veins. The most common procedure is ligation and stripping where the varicose vein is tied off at both ends and then removed using a thin wire which is pulled out via a small incision in the leg.