Varicose veins are coiled up, twisted, and enlarged veins that can be seen just under the skin, usually on the legs or ankles. They don’t usually get better by themselves, but it may take varying lengths of time for them to get worse.
This article on varicose veins symptoms and treatment is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
What are the symptoms?
Varicose veins are considered unsightly. They often start from small, green or blue spidery veins that gradually enlarge. Mild varicose veins symptoms include swollen ankles, itchy and aching legs. Sometimes the veins can become very torturous and coiled giving rise to more serious problems such as a vein rupturing, bleeding, or internal clots. Sometimes people develop permanent eczema or ulcers which tend not to heal. In these cases, treatment is highly recommended.
Having varicose veins does not mean you will develop the more serious conditions and complications, but they are unlikely to clear up by themselves without treatment.
Who gets them?
The reasons why people get varicose veins are not yet fully understood. However, there are two main factors that contribute to their development: your occupation and your genetic propensity.
Varicose veins develop when the blood does not get pumped back up the legs properly to the heart. This can happen if a person stands or sits in one position for long periods of time. The muscles in the legs need to contract and relax, such as when walking, in order to facilitate the circulatory system.
It is thought that the tendency to develop varicose veins runs in families. Varicose veins are dilated veins, which lose their elasticity and enlarge over time. This is an inherited genetic trait, as is weak valves – another contributing factor to varicose veins.
Other risk factors include obesity, cigarette smoking, a high level of cholesterol, and pregnancy.
How are they treated?
If your varicose veins are not causing you serious problems there are some treatments that you can do at home to help relieve the symptoms:
- Exercise – good for keeping the blood flowing evenly throughout the body
- Compression stockings – helps relieve aching and swelling in the legs
- Weight loss – being overweight can exacerbate symptoms
- Elevating the legs – especially at night, to assist blood flow from the legs back to the heart
If your varicose veins symptoms are causing you problems then there are more medical treatments available:
- Sclerotherapy. This involves sealing off the affected vein by injecting a chemical into it and allowing other veins to take over the work. The varicose vein then becomes less visible as it is no longer filled with blood.
- Laser therapy. A technique to bring about scar tissue inside the vein in order to close it off, producing a similar effect to sclerotherapy.
- Microphlebectomy or stab avulsion. The varicose vein is removed through several tiny incisions made in the skin. Stitches afterwards are not normally needed.
- Radiofrequency therapy. This varicose veins treatment is a similar procedure to laser therapy, except radio frequency is used instead of laser energy.
- Vein ligation. A standard varicose veins treatment for, it involves making small incisions in the skin of the leg so the damaged vein can be removed and the healthy part reconnected in a different place.
Before deciding to have surgery on your varicose veins, take into consideration the following factors:
- The severity of your symptoms
- Risk factors
- Self-care treatment/management
- The benefits of surgery versus the drawbacks
- Whether you can have the treatment on the NHS
Reasons to have them treated
- If you’re troubled by the symptoms
- Persistent symptoms, despite self-care measures
- Newer outpatient techniques offering good results with fewer risks
Reasons not to have them treated
- If your varicose veins are not affecting your health/causing any problems
- Self-care, such as exercise, compression stockings, weight loss, giving up smoking etc. helps relieve the symptoms
- Surgical procedures have risks, including recurrence of varicose veins, scarring, and blood clots
- If your operation is to be done privately it might cost a lot of money