Varicose veins occur when valves in the leg veins stop working properly, meaning the blood falls down the veins when standing up, rather than flowing upwards towards the heart.
In their simplest form, varicose veins can be identified as bulging veins which protrude from the legs but, up to half of all varicose veins sufferers will show no overt signs of the condition, as the problematic veins remain hidden under the skin.
If treatment is necessary, the NHS advises your doctor may first recommend up to six months of using compression stockings, taking regular exercise and elevating the affected area when resting.
Other common treatment options include endothermic ablation – where heat is used to seal affected veins – sclerotherapy – this uses special foam to close the veins and ligation and stripping – the affected verbs are surgically removed.
Whatever treatment option you decide to go with, a leading vascular specialist says January and February is the best time of year to do it.
Professor Mark Whiteley of The Whiteley Clinic said many people will feel self-conscious about baring their legs during the summer months because of varicose veins, especially as 50 per cent of varicose veins are visible with a bulging appearance.
So getting treatment done in good time will avoid this.
He said: “It is very common for patients to seek treatment later in the year when their summer holidays are looking, but unfortunately this does not allow enough time for the course of the treatment to complete – which is why January and February are the perfect time to start.”
What are the causes of varicose veins?
Professor Whiteley said there is a stereotype that it’s only the old and the overweight who will suffer from varicose veins.
He said: “The truth is, 30 per cent of all adults will be affected by them and contrary to popular belief; the condition is familial and can strike at any time of life – although it does become more common with passing years.
“This said, that doesn’t stop young people getting them if their genes determine it. I recently operated on a 12-year-old boy with severe varicose veins and have had many other patients in their teens.
“Up to 89 per cent of people who believe they are suffering from harmless thread veins on the surface of their skin are actually displaying signs of these hidden varicose veins. Many people will ignore these veins as they assume they are purely a ‘cosmetic condition’, and will often seek simple removal of these thread or spider veins.
“However, if the underlying hidden varicose veins have not been found and treated first, then thread or spider vein treatments are much less likely to work. Indeed, failure to find and treat the underlying veins can result in permanent red stains in a few cases.”
What are the symptoms of varicose veins?
The NHS says they may be blue or dark purple, and often lumpy, bulging or twisted in appearance.
Other symptoms it lists include:
- Aching, heavy and uncomfortable legs
- Swollen feet and ankles
- Burning or throbbing in your legs
- Muscle cramp in your legs, particularly at night
- Dry, itchy and thin skin over the affected vein
Varicose veins are rarely a serious condition and don’t usually require treatment.
But speak to your GP if:
- Your varicose veins are causing you pain or discomfort
- The skin over your veins is sore and irritated
- The aching in your legs is causing irritation at night and disturbing your sleep
What are the treatment options for varicose veins?