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Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are a real nuisance. It may just be that you don't like the appearance of them. Or maybe, they cause you real physical discomfort. Either way, sometimes you will do whatever you can to get rid of them. In recent years, a number of new treatments have been developed, and they are described in detail later in this article. varicose veins

Varicose veins can vary vastly in severity, from mildly raised veins to huge lumpy veins that cause discomfort. The condition phlebitis occurs when these veins become inflamed.

What causes varicose veins?

superficial leg vein valve working correctly
back flow of blood caused by a a faulty valve
Blood flowing correctly through the superficial vein in the leg
Back flow of blood in a faulty leg vein valve

They are caused when a valve in the leg veins fails. In a correctly working valve, blood can only flow in the correct direct, ie into the deep leg vein and onwards towards the heart. When a vein becomes faulty, blood can seep back in the wrong direction and pool in the surface leg veins, causing the varicose appearance. The tendency to get varicose veins in inherited, although they are more prevalent in women than men. Other risk factors in developing varicose veins include obesity, pregancy, taking hrt or other female hormones eg the oral contraceptive and standing motionless for extended periods of time.

What are the treatments?
Generally, before any treatment is selected, the doctor will scan your leg to see where the problem is. He will need to know exactly which valves are faulty and how big the vein is. If you can get a referral from your GP, surgery is free on the NHS. However, this is unlikely to cover varicose veins which are purely causing cosmetic problems. Your GP may well give you advice on self help measures such as putting your feet up and losing excess weight if you are overweight.

The main treatments are:

  • Surgical stripping. Damaged veins are removed under a general anaesthetic. It is most often performed on large varicose veins or in situations where both legs are affected.
  • Laser treatment. Endovenous treatment involves inserting a catheter containing the laser towards the groin under a local anaesthetic. Fluid is subsequently injected around the vein to protect the surrounding tissue from the laser. This treatment is only suitable when the veins are not too big and they are straight (not twisted).
  • Sclerotherapy. You are likely to recover very quickly from this treatment, which works best on smaller and thread veins. However, more than one treatment may be necessary for optimal results.
  • Radio Frequency Ablation. This treatment is quite new, having been approved by NICE in 2003, and is performed under a general anaesthetic. A catheter is inserted into the vein which is then heated to 85% starting at the top and working down. The vein is permanently destroyed with good cosmetic results, but again is best for smaller, straight veins.

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