Varicose veins are one of those conditions that are generally considered to be well recognised, and yet they’re not really. Severe cases are readily identifiable by the appearance of lumpy and bulging dark purple veins in the legs, which sometimes look as if they are twisted together.
Those who suffer in this way often experience a feeling of heaviness in their lower limbs, swollen feet and accompanying muscle cramps. This is because the circulation is so restricted. The tiny valves inside the main veins have ceased to function properly and this means that the blood collects in pools, and then it starts to swell, instead of flowing.
These thick and knobbly-looking varicose veins are the most cited when generally speaking of the condition. They are known as trunk varicose veins. The most common triggers for their onset are pregnancy, old age and obesity.
However, they are far from being the only type. Reticular varicose veins are not blue or purple, they are red and usually form in groups in a network of thread or spider veins and, unlike standard varicose veins, are harmless, although they can look quite unhealthy, gathered in clusters across the face or the legs. One in 10 adults experience some form or another of these, with women being more predisposed than men.
Despite their gruesome appearance, varicose veins are more often than not, not dangerous, and do not require any treatment at all. They are just a sign that the body has done a great deal of standing and/or walking. If they do begin to cause any pain or discomfort there are certain methods to deal with them.
Compression hosiery is the simplest treatment available. Beyond that there are certain treatments, from phlebectomy where the veins are removed, to sclerotherapy and endothermal ablation, where they are either closed off with foam or sealed with heat. Anyone who seeks to have any of these on the NHS may well be unlucky as they do not perform them for cosmetic reasons. They are not considered to be life-threatening and it is hard to get any sort of help with them at all, beyond the advice to wear support stockings.
Prevention is better than cure, goes the old saying, and with varicose veins this can certainly be true. The main culprit is sitting still or standing in one place for too long, so try to keep moving around, even if in a sedentary job. Regular exercise, as in many other fields, is a great way to keep this condition at bay. It is all about good circulation.
As might well be imagined when there is a bodily problem with blood flow, some serious complications can occur. Bleeding is one. It can be difficult to stop and any patient with a cut to the varicose vein needs to elevate their leg and put pressure on the wound.
Another problem can be thrombophlebitis, or swelling of the veins. Chronic venous insufficiency can lead to lack of oxygen and other nutrients to key parts of the body and run onto conditions like varicose eczema. Venous ulcers are often seen around the ankles. This is when fluids have collected to such an extent that they cause the skin to break down.
Most patients with varicose veins will be prescribed compression stockings to wear. These are carefully measured to fit the contours of the leg and must be put on correctly on they will apply pressure on the wrong points of the limb. They should be put on in the morning and not taken off until bedtime.
Handwashing is advisable, and two pairs are usually given to allow for the laundering. Many users find their skin becomes dry and in those instances, use of a moisturiser is recommended. Even those who have already had some surgery still find they need to keep wearing the stockings to prevent further varicose veins.
Despite the fact that any vein in the human body has the capacity to become varicose, it is almost always the case they they occur in the legs, and are associated with standing and walking about and the pressure that this puts on the lower body. They do not look attractive, but in nine times out of 10, they are not at all serious.