Varicose veins: FAQs

UK Vein Clinic, a leading provider of walk-in, walk-out treatments for varicose veins and thread veins in London’s Harley Street, offers some expert answers to frequently asked questions about this common condition.

What are varicose veins?

If blood stops circulating properly through your veins, the flow becomes sluggish and venous blood starts to pool: usually in the legs, ankles and feet. Coloured red, bluish, or purple by this sluggish flow of blood, these veins can start to show through the skin, as they swell in size and harden.

What are thread veins/spider veins?

A type of smaller varicose vein which can appear anywhere - including the face and nose – close to the surface of the skin. Thread veins (or ‘spider veins’) appear when the circulatory system stops working efficiently and blood flow becomes sluggish. 

What are the symptoms of varicose veins?

Varicose veins frequently become itchy or painful (as do some thread veins). They can cause the skin to dry out and become discoloured; and varicose veins can lead to numbness or heaviness in the feet and legs. Serious complications associated with varicose veins include developing venous ulcers, May-Thurner Syndrome, and the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis. 

What is vein disease?

A very common condition which occurs when the circulatory system stops working properly. It leads to symptoms of poor circulation, like your toes or feet feeling cold or numb, and ultimately to varicose veins. 

Why do people get varicose veins?

Healthy circulation relies on tiny valves inside your veins that help keep blood flowing back to your heart, and on muscles - in your legs in particular - to pump blood back up through the body. If muscles weaken, or these valves wear out, blood flow back to the heart starts to slow down. Over time, blood can start to pool in some veins - causing them to swell up and sometimes to show through the skin. This also results in very high pressure in the veins when you stand up, which can in turn cause damage to other veins. Varicose veins may also occur after any direct injury to a vein. 

What are venous ulcers and why do they develop?

If you have Chronic Venous Insufficiency, the valves inside your veins don't work properly, so blood flows the wrong way down the veins. This creates abnormally high pressure in the veins when you stand up. This increased pressure can start to damage the fine veins in the skin over time. Damage to the veins starves the skin above of oxygen and other essentials. So if that skin gets broken, it can take a long time to stop the wound bleeding; and it will take much longer than usual for the injury to heal - if it heals properly at all. 

What is Restless Legs Syndrome?

Also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, this is an uncontrollable urge to move your legs, often felt most keenly in the evening or at night. Almost all sufferers from RLS find their condition improves after their varicose veins have been treated. 

What is May-Thurner Syndrome?

Also known as ‘Iliac Vein Compression Syndrome’, this leads to swelling of the left leg and is caused by a large artery in the pelvis putting pressure on a large vein in the abdomen. 

What’s the best varicose vein treatment?

Based on the available scientific evidence, specialised and minimally invasive treatment using radio waves (Endovenous Radio Frequency Ablation for varicose veins) currently offers the best outcome for patients. Thermal treatments like this are considered the best option by the UK’s National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

Can I get varicose veins treatment on the NHS?

Routine treatment of varicose veins is severely restricted on the NHS.

How can I manage varicose vein symptoms?

Changes in behaviour - such as more exercise and a healthier diet - can alleviate some symptoms by improving circulation. Wearing compression stockings, which help to pump blood back to the heart, can also improve varicose vein symptoms in the legs and feet. However, none of these steps can reverse the process.

How can you avoid getting varicose veins?

As our bodies age, it becomes more likely that the valves in our veins get injured or start to fail. Lack of exercise, smoking, and becoming overweight can all increase the risks of this. Pregnancy can also put a strain on the circulatory system that may lead to varicose veins forming. Maintaining a healthy circulation throughout later life - by exercising regularly in the first instance - is the best safeguard against varicose veins.

Who’s most likely to get varicose veins - men or women?

Varicose veins affect roughly half of all men and women - but women are slightly more at risk. This is because of the impact of hormonal changes, especially during pregnancy and menopause. Pelvic congestion syndrome (varicose veins in the pelvis) is also one complication that is linked strongly to pregnancy.

Are varicose veins dangerous?

The short answer is ‘Eventually, yes’. While varicose veins may not pose any serious threat in themselves, especially in the short term, it’s nevertheless true that vein disease is a chronic and degenerative condition. If you develop varicose veins that get steadily worse and do not treat them at all, you are at greater risk of facing more serious complications at some point in the future. A minimally invasive varicose veins surgery process done in time ensures that complications are minimised.

How long does the treatment take?

All the treatments at UK Vein Clinic are minimally invasive so you can walk in and walk out the same day. A typical treatment session generally takes between 30 and 45 minutes.

Do varicose veins or thread veins go away without treatment?

No. Symptoms may vary over time and in different seasons, and the appearance of veins and skin can be improved, a little, with careful management. But once these veins have formed they will not go away without being treated.

I have veins on my face, will you able to treat those? And how painful is it?

Teaming up with their partners at Dr Newmans Clinic, UK Vein Clinic are able to cover all vein problems, using a range of methods, from Veinwave treatment to Radiofrequency ablation (RFA). Their thread and spider vein treatment certainly includes facial thread vein removal. Thread vein treatment, even in sensitive areas such as the face is defined as “mildly uncomfortable” by most patients, but not painful.

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