Varicose veins are veins which have become swollen and enlarged through deficiencies in the blood circulation system.
Valves that control the direction of blood flow back to the heart from the rest of the body become stretched and inefficient causing ‘bottlenecks’ of blood which cause the veins to bulge and show through the skin as lumpy and discoloured.
This short video from NHS CHOICES explains the condition and its treatment.
Despite being a very common condition it is not widely understood and many myths and half-truths are circulated which can lead to misunderstandings and even cause sufferers to avoid treatment when it is needed.
So here are the top 6 myths we’ve heard.
While it’s true that the condition affects more women (particularly older women) it can develop in anyone, male or female, of all ages and it can occur in any vein in the body, not just the legs.
The truth is that we don’t yet know why some people develop the condition and others don’t but crossing your legs is certainly not one of the causes.
The shoes you wear aren’t a relevant factor either although spending large amounts of time standing, particularly in a work environment, does make it more likely as does obesity, pregnancy and a family history of the condition.
In most cases the condition will be a cosmetic issue but can still have a negative impact on the sufferer who may feel unattractive and self-conscious about their appearance.
In some cases the enlarged veins can cause immense discomfort through throbbing, aching and itching. Advanced cases, which represent about 10% of those who develop the condition, may experience dermatitis and thickened skin which may cause open sores if not treated.
Because the condition can affect any vein, it may not always be visible. Sometimes the vein is in a deeper position but it might still be the source of discomfort and display the symptoms of swelling, tired and aching legs, cramps and rashes.
This is one of those half-truths, if you are susceptible to the condition there is no evidence to suggest you can either reverse it or prevent new occurrences in other veins.
In fact there is a recognised risk that even if you have the affected veins surgically removed it may return to some other parts of the body in the future.
But we also know that obesity and prolonged inactivity (sitting or standing) can actually make matters worse.
Sufferers should try to move around for about 5 minutes in every 30 during the day to avoid standing or sitting for long periods.
If possible you should also take regular breaks from standing or sitting and elevate the legs, using a pillow or cushion, to ease the blood flow and reduce any discomfort.
No it isn’t. It is possible, if you suffer from a more serious case, that your legs and muscles may ache and tire more easily, but exercise will promote more healthy blood flow and help to manage weight which is a genuinely damaging factor.
Walking or using calf muscles in any exercise will force blood circulation through the central veins and arteries and will have less impact on the dysfunctional veins.
If you suffer from swollen legs, ankle exercises will help to maintain flexibility.
Most GP’s will prescribe wearing compression stockings or dressings to begin with. These will alleviate any symptoms of discomfort but they are not a cure or a long term treatment.
The NHS will not sanction surgery for cosmetic purposes, if you suffer no other symptoms but bulging and discolouration it is true that you would have to fund private treatment which can cost between £2000 and £2500 plus several hundreds of pounds for consultations and follow up.
You may find this procedure is covered by private health insurance if you have it.
Should you be experiencing more serious symptoms like pain or skin irritation, and particularly severe swelling and leg ulcers, your GP may well agree to further treatment.
There are more options available today than the ‘ligation and stripping’ of the veins, a vascular surgeon would recommend the best treatment for your particular condition.
If you are at all concerned about the appearance of varicose veins, or you think you may require treatment, you should consult your GP as soon as possible.
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