Varicose veins are a common affliction and are hated by women the world round. They usually appear on the surface of the legs, bulging and blue or purple in colour. As many as three in 10 people are estimated to be affected at some point in their lives, according to Bupa, and the condition is slightly more prevalent in females.
What causes them?
The heart delivers blood to the legs through a series of veins. In order to be pumped back to the heart, these veins have valves which open and close, pushing the blood upwards. Veins in the outer layers of the legs, called superficial veins, can become varicose when these valves become weak and thus less efficient in pumping blood back to the deeper veins. This allows blood to collect, making the veins appear swollen.
Any vein in the body can become varicose, but due to the extra pressure the problem is more prevalent in the leg region.
According to the NHS, other factors can also increase a person’s chances of developing the condition, including:
- Genetics – you are more likely to get varicose veins if members of your family have them
- Age – veins begin to lose their elasticity with age
- Obesity – being overweight puts extra pressure on the veins
- Your gender – women are more susceptible than men
- Your job – you are more at risk if you job involves standing for long periods of time
What are the symptoms?
For most people, varicose veins do not cause much physical discomfort but are merely unattractive. Sometimes, however, other symptoms can arise, such as:
- Dryness and itching around the affected area
- Heavy, aching or restless legs
- Swollen ankles
- Muscle cramps
- Burning or throbbing in the legs
How are they treated?
People who do not experience discomfort due to their varicose veins usually do not need treatment, but sometimes seek it for cosmetic reasons. Popular methods include:
- Compression stockings – these relieve swelling and help the blood flow up to the heart more easily, but do not prevent more varicose veins from developing. Medical support stockings relieve swelling and help the blood flow up to the heart more easily, but do not prevent more varicose veins from developing.
- Surgery – there is a popular procedure called ligation and stripping, whereby the affected veins are tied off and then removed from the leg. This does not affect blood flow, as deeper veins take over the work
- Sclerotherapy is suitable for those with small to medium sized varicose veins. Chemicals in the form of liquid or foam are injected into the veins, causing them to close down and allowing stronger veins to take over. The long-term effects of this type of treatment are still unknown, but it has proven to be successful in the short term
- Radiofrequency ablation uses a high frequency electrical current to heat the vein and cause it to shut down
- Endovenous laser treatment – a fine laser is passed inside the vein, damaging it and causing it to close
- Transilluminated powered phlebectomy uses suction to remove affected veins with the help of an endoscopic transilluminator and a small incision in the leg
Images: Wikimedia Commons