WHAT ARE VARICOSE VEINS?
Varicose veins are enlarged veins that can be blue, dark purple or flesh colored. They are often bulging above the skin and look like twisted bulging cords. They occur when the valves in the veins that carry blood from the legs toward the heart no longer function, causing blood to pool in the legs. They are usually visible and can look unpleasant and often misunderstood as a cosmetic issue.
Varicose veins are very common affecting at least 15-20% of the adult population in the UK. This condition can be embarrassing and painful and if untreated can lead to leg swelling, pigmentation of the skin of the lower leg and ulcers. Venous ulceration affects 10% of people with varicose veins and can be difficult to heal.
If the venous circulation is impaired for a long time the delivery of oxygen to the skin around the ankle is decreased and toxins accumulate. Over the years this causes a thickening and pigmentation of the skin which is similar in appearance to eczema – venous eczema. Eventually, the skin affected by venous eczema breaks down and an ulcer develops – a venous ulcer.
What are the symptoms of Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are often misunderstood as a cosmetic problem and many people living with them do not seek treatment. Though often thought of as a cosmetic nuisance, varicose veins can sometimes progress to a more serious form of venous disease called chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). CVI is a progressive disease that may result in increasingly serious signs and symptoms if not treated. Fortunately there are minimally invasive treatment options available for varicose veins.
Patients who do suffer with varicose veins may complaint of:
- Aching, heavy, restless legs usually worse at the end of the day
- Ankle and leg swelling
- Discolouration around the veins, usually a brownish colour
Can Varicose Veins be prevented?
For mild forms of venous disease, lifestyle changes may be recommended to control existing symptoms and prevent others.
If your daily routine requires you to be on your feet constantly, consider wearing daily support hose. Stretch and exercise your legs as often as possible to increase circulation and reduce pressure buildup. Manage body weight, exercise regularly (run or walk), staying fit is the best way to keep your leg muscles toned, your blood flowing, and your weight under control. Elevate your legs whenever possible. Avoid clothes that are tight around the waist, groin or legs.
What are the complications of Varicose Veins?
- The skin may become dry and itchy, resulting in venous eczema
- Patients may suffer with phlebitis which is a painful inflammatory condition of the varicose veins
- Bleeding which can be quite significant (sometimes caused by a minor injury)
- Venous leg ulcers (if skin changes start occuring, such as discoloration above the ankle, itching dry skin or scarring, then there is a risk for future skin breakdown and leg ulcer development)
Diagnosis of Varicose Veins
Your consultation will involve a clinical examination in addition to an ultrasound scan (duplex) to identify the type of varicose veins present.
An ultrasound scan (duplex) uses sound waves to produce an image of the veins inside your leg. It allows us to see your deep veins in more detail, and examine the structure and function of your varicose veins. It also guides the decision regarding the optimum treatment strategy.