According to the Circulation Foundation, as many as 50% of women may be affected by varicose veins at some stage in their lives. The condition can also affect men, though it is much less common.
Varicose veins often occur during pregnancy, but the menopause, obesity and taking HRT can also contribute to their development. Although in most cases, varicose veins are not considered a medical health problem, they can cause complications. Many women also feel self-conscious about their appearance and seek out ways of removing them.
What are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are generally very easy to identify. The term refers to swollen, lumpy veins under the skin; and they’re often dark blue or purple in colour. They commonly occur in the leg area, particularly around the calves and sometimes the thighs.
The condition develops when the flow of blood is impeded and pressure builds up in the vein. The veins have a series of tiny valves within them, which open and close to allow blood to pass. If these valves become damaged under pressure, blood can flow backwards and collect in the vein, which causes it to swell.
For many women, varicose veins are painless. However, others will experience pain or discomfort as a result of having them. Symptoms can include:
- Swelling in the feet or ankles
- A burning or throbbing sensation in the legs
- Aching or cramping in the legs, particularly at night
- Dry, itchy skin in the affected area
Whilst most varicose veins occur in the legs, it’s important to note that they can occur in other parts of the body. These include the womb, the vagina, the pelvis, the rectum and the oesophagus.
Treating Varicose Veins
If you’re experiencing pain as a result of your varicose veins, or simply feel self-conscious about them, there are treatments available to help reduce their symptoms and appearance.
In the first instance, it’s likely that your doctor will recommend a series of techniques you can try at home. These include:
- Wearing compression stockings
- Avoiding standing for long periods of time
- Exercising regularly to improve circulation
- Raising the affected area when at rest
If self-treatment is unsuccessful, and your GP identifies you as a candidate for further treatment, you may be recommended:
- Laser treatment. A laser is passed through a catheter and positioned at the top of your affected vein. This then heats the vein and seals it shut. Blood is diverted to another healthy vein. This procedure is normally performed under local anaesthetic.
- Radiofrequency ablation. The wall of the vein is heated using radiofrequency energy, causing the vein to collapse and seal shut. As with laser surgery, the blood will then be diverted through a healthy vein. It is also generally performed using local anaesthetic.
- Ultrasound-guided foam sclerotherapy. Sclerotherapy involves the injection of a specially designed foam into the veins. This foam creates scars in the veins, which seals them shut. However, this treatment is not suitable for those who have previously suffered from deep vein thrombosis.
If you are keen to get rid of your varicose veins, it’s a good idea to arrange an appointment with your GP, who will be able to advise you on the best course of action.
If you would like to find out more about varicose veins surgery, how much it costs and what it involves, click on the link to our recent article.
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