Varicose Veins Explained

Stages of varicose veins

Varicose veins may not only be extremely painful but can also be the cause of much embarrassment due to their ugly appearance.  Found on the legs and feet (and sometimes other parts of the body), they appear as swollen, protruding and misshapen veins.



What do varicose veins look like?

Often darker in colour than other veins with a lumpy swollen appearance, Varicose Veins may cause a considerable amount of pain and discomfort, and can often lead to surgery. However, following a little online research, it appears there are several things one can do to try to avoid the onset of these nasty veins.

These include:

  • Avoid long periods of sitting or standing;
  • Don’t cross your legs whilst sitting;
  • Eat a healthy diet – don’t overeat;
  • Keep your legs elevated when seated – preferably at heart-height which assists with
  • blood flow back to the heart;
  • Take regular exercise – to improve blood flow;
  • Wear flat shoes;
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing – not tight and restrictive.

It should also be noted that not all varicose veins are painful.

Varicose veins on a female legs

What causes varicose veins?

The cause of varicose veins in your legs can be broken down into several common that include varicose vein development from excessive pressure to the abdomen and leg, such as pregnancy, obesity, long periods of standing, and even chronic constipation. More common in women, and also hereditary, in more serious cases this can result in blood clots and even deep vein thrombosis.

Why do we get varicose veins?

Our veins have one-way valves that help the blood flow back towards the heart. When these valves become weakened, the blood flow slows and blood can clog, pooling within the veins, resulting in the swelling and discomfort that is a varicose vein.

What is the best treatment for varicose veins?

If you are struggling with varicose vein pain, have noticed a discolouration of your skin, leg ulcers or swelling, we suggest seeking medical advice first and foremost.  A trained medical doctor will be able to diagnose varicose veins and may refer you to a vascular specialist to provide the most relevant treatment options for your individual needs – these are dependent on the state of your health, location and size of the varicose veins.



Treatments can be any of the following

Compression stocking – though not recommended for everyone (dependent on blood circulation, state of health, etc.,) these are very tight stockings that compress the leg. They are usually tighter at the ankle to encourage better blood flow to the heart and may improve pain and swelling.  You may be advised to wear compression before and after treatment for varicose veins.

Endothermal ablation – this is where the vein is sealed, or blocked by using either radiofrequency or endovenous laser ablation.   Performed under local anaesthetic, this procedure has a faster recovery time than that of more traditional varicose vein surgery and is less invasive.

Foam Sclerotherapy – if endothermal ablation is not suitable for you, your vascular consultant may suggest Foam Sclerotherapy. This procedure involves a chemical foam being injected into the affected vein. The foam scars or damage the vein causing it to close-up or seal. Other stronger healthy veins will take over transporting the blood within a couple of weeks.  Again, this is a less invasive treatment for varicose veins than surgery and is performed under local anaesthetic.

Varicose veins chart

Surgical procedures

If the less invasive treatments are not suitable then varicose vein surgery is the final option, both these treatments are performed under general anaesthetic.

Surgical treatments include ligation and stripping, and phlebectomy.

Ligation & Stripping Varicose Vein Surgery
Ligation and stripping is the most common surgical procedure – here the affected vein is tied off to cease blood flow and then the vein is stripped out using special surgical instruments.

Phlebectomy Varicose Vein Surgery
This type of varicose vein removal surgery is where the veins are removed via a small incision on the surface of the skin.  This procedure can also be carried out under local anaesthetic.

Following most varicose vein removal treatments you’ll be required to wear compression stockings to help prevent blood clots.

Each of the treatments described above is performed only after consultation with a professional vascular surgeon, and may not be suitable for everyone.  Speak to your GP today if you are in pain or suffering from varicose veins. They can then point you in the right direction for further investigation.

Further reading

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