Among the many conditions that can affect a somewhat surprising amount of people, varicose veins seemingly don’t receive enough attention.
According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), it’s estimated that around a third of the population will be affected by “visible varicose veins in the lower limbs.”
Given the numbers, there’s obviously a very real chance that you will deal with varicose veins at some point in your life as well. Even though you may not be noticing any signs of them showing up just yet, things can change as you get older. Pregnant women are also at greater risk for varicose veins as they have been observed to develop more during pregnancy.
It certainly seems that you or someone you know will have varicose veins eventually, but what can be done about them?
The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) may be able to provide some assistance, but the process of securing it can be quite complex.
What Are Varicose Veins?
According to the NHS, varicose veins are “swollen and enlarged veins.” You will also often see them show up on the lower extremities and they are typically discoloured. Aside from the veins featuring a blue or purplish hue, they also stand out because they jut out of the skin and feel bumpy to the touch.
You may often hear people refer to varicose veins as spider veins as well. While the two are quite similar, they are still different.
Generally speaking, spider veins are smaller than varicose veins. On top of that, varicose veins can cause discomfort and pain over time while spider veins may not end up causing those kinds of problems.
Focusing more on varicose veins now, they are essentially the result of the veins in your body circulation in some ways.
As detailed by the NHS, the veins that are present throughout your body feature small valves. These valves allow your blood to flow through and eventually reach your heart. After blood has passed through a valve, it will then close and prevent the flood from flowing in reverse through the vein.
Those smaller valves present in the veins don’t always work as intended however. Instead of opening and closing on time, they may remain open for longer than expected. Because of that, the blood can indeed flow in reverse back through the vein.
The blood can then end up getting stuck inside the vein thus causing it to swell up. That results in the varicose vein looking the way it does.
What Are the Factors That Put You at Greater Risk for Varicose Veins?
While blood being stranded in your vein is the main cause for a varicose vein, there are numerous factors that can put people at greater risk for them.
1. Women are more at risk
First off, women are more at risk for varicose veins than men. Studies indicate that female hormones may be among the reasons why women are more prone to getting varicose veins. Certain female hormones can adversely affect the walls of the veins, causing them to weaken.
If the walls of the vein have been weakened significantly, it obviously becomes more susceptible to letting blood back in which can then lead to enlargement.
The effect certain female hormones can have on vein walls also explains why pregnant women are more at risk for varicose veins. Hormone levels typically rise during the period of pregnancy. Furthermore, events during pregnancy such as the womb growing and blood flow increasing are also considered as additional risk factors for varicose veins.
2. Your genes play a role
Studies have shown that a person’s risk factor for varicose veins goes up if he/she has a close relative who has or had the condition.
3. Increased pressure brought about by weight can lead to leaking veins
Excess pounds can place more pressure on your veins. As your veins continually try to pump the blood to your heart, they may also leak and become varicose veins.
4. Getting older can adversely affect your veins
Your veins won’t remain in great shape throughout your life. As you get older, they may grow weaker. Because of that, it’s easier to develop varicose veins when you are older.
5. Daily habits may increase the likelihood of you developing varicose veins
If you tend to stand for extended periods of time because of your job or simply due to the habits you’ve developed, your veins may also struggle with pumping the blood properly. With your blood not moving through your body as easily as it can, varicose veins could be in your future.
6. Previous and current conditions may also make you more susceptible
Lastly, the NHS says that people with have abnormal blood vessels, or some sort of swelling in their pelvis are more prone to varicose veins. People who had a blood clot in the past also have a higher chance to develop varicose veins in the future.
What Are the Effects of Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins can do more than just alter the appearance of your skin. Different grades can be assigned to them and the grades indicate how severe the condition is.
On the lowest end of the spectrum are the Grade 1 veins that are usually very small in size and do nothing beyond change the appearance of your skin. A slight step up from the Grade 1 varicose veins are the Grade 2 varicose veins that also mostly feature a cosmetic impact, although they can also cause a bit of swelling.
Grade 3 varicose veins are noticeably larger and they can also cause more discomfort if the people who have them stand for long periods of time.
Grade 4 varicose veins pose problems beyond pain. They may also cause the veins to become inflamed and harder over time – a condition known as phlebitis – while the ankles may also grow dry and itchy due to venous eczema.
Grade 5 varicose veins are even more damaging to the skin and they can also cause severe discolouration around the ankles, while the Grade 6 varicose veins are considered as venous ulcers. These venous ulcers can bring about significant amounts of pain.
The vast majority of people who will develop varicose veins at some point in their life will not suffer from venous ulcers. However, there’s s still a not insignificant number of people who will.
Per NICE, estimates suggest that somewhere around three to six per cent of people who have varicose veins may eventually develop venous ulcers sometime later.
What Can You Do about Your Varicose Veins?
It’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor as varicose veins are indicators of an underlying problem and varicose veins “can be fixed.”
The question is, what can you do to fix and address your varicose veins? and can the NHS can provide you with some form of assistance in this situation.
When it comes to varicose veins that fall into the Grade 1 and Grade 2 categories, you can’t count on the NHS stepping up to offer any kind of help. Because the varicose veins that fall into those categories mainly bring about only cosmetic effects, they are not going to be covered by the NHS.
The NHS even notes that people do not have to visit their general practitioners if their varicose veins are not causing discomfort.
Notably, Grade 3 varicose veins are known to cause some discomfort. They can be even harder to deal with for people in certain occupations. Will the NHS do anything about them?
Changes to the System
Back in 2009 to 2010, 35,659 procedures were carried out on varicose veins, according to NICE.
The NHS has since tightened up their criteria for providing treatment to certain conditions. The new guidelines are expected to decrease the number of treatments covered by the NHS by cutting down on what they have deemed to be “unnecessary procedures,”. All in all, the changes put into place by the NHS are expected to prevent around 100,000 “unnecessary procedures.”
Commenting on those changes, National Medical Director Stephen Powis said that putting an end to “treatments where risks and harms outweigh the benefits” would help the NHS provide the “very best clinical care for our patients.”
Powis added that reducing the number of those procedures deemed to be “unnecessary and risky” will allow them to better allocate the available resources.
Certain varicose vein treatments are among those that have been reduced due to the changes implemented by the NHS.
What Does All That Mean for You?
If you already have varicose veins and would like to have them addressed, you are probably wondering exactly what kind of help you can expect to receive from the NHS. As noted earlier, the NHS will not do anything for varicose veins in the first two categories. That has not changed.
You will have to pay for cosmetic treatments with your own money.
What is different though is how the NHS now handles Grade 3 varicose veins.
Older individuals who dealt with Grade 3 varicose veins previously could go to the NHS and seek assistance. However most people often fall into the Grade 3 category. By no longer offering treatment in the form of surgical procedures to people with Grade 3 varicose veins, it will be easier for the NHS to reduce spending further.
Should you approach your general practitioner with a Grade 3 varicose vein, you will likely be advised to exercise more regularly, keep the parts of your body with the varicose veins elevated while resting, and you may also be encouraged to wear compression stockings.
What You Need to Know about Compression Stockings
Crucially, your general practitioner will likely you ask to wear the compression stockings for six months. This is important because the compression stockings will likely impact the amount of pain you are currently experiencing.
There are a few things you need to keep in mind if you want them to have them to have the desired effect.
First off, you should put them on as soon as you wake up and take them off before going to sleep. It’s not a good idea to wear ill-fitting compression stockings. If the pair you’ve been given is too tight, inform your general practitioner and try to secure custom-made stockings that are designed specifically to fit your legs.
It is important not to let the stockings roll down your legs or else they could damage your skin. To feel more comfortable while wearing the compression stockings, you can also apply some moisturising cream on your legs, according to the NHS.
Tell your doctor right away if you see that your compression stockings have been damaged to get them replaced. Replacing your stockings may become necessary at some point, although some of them will be able to last for up to six months.
Following six months of wearing compression stockings most of the time, the pain you felt previously could very well subside, meaning further treatment will no longer be necessary.
However, if your pain persists even after the six months of wearing the compression stockings, you will likely need additional treatment, and this is where the treatment provided by the NHS can be more comprehensive.
What Other Forms of Treatment Can Be Provided?
There are three common types of treatment offered to people with varicose veins that progress beyond the Grade 3 level and one relatively new option as well.
1. Endothermal Ablation
During an endothermal ablation session, energy will be used to seal your varicose veins. There are two types of endothermal ablation procedures.
In endovenous laser treatments, a small laser will be used to seal the veins. For radiofrequency ablation procedures, a tube that sends out radiofrequency will be put to use.
Both procedures will also involve a catheter being inserted into your vein.
If both forms of endothermal ablation prove unsuccessful when it comes to sealing your veins, you may need to undergo sclerotherapy. Instead of relying on lasers or radiofrequency, a special type of foam will be used in sclerotherapy.
The foam will be injected into your varicose veins and it is expected to form scars. Once the scars have formed, they will effectively seal up your varicose veins.
3. Ligation and Stripping
Should endothermal ablation and sclerotherapy prove unable to eliminate your varicose veins, the next option is to go with a surgical procedure known as ligation and stripping.
To carry out this procedure, a vascular surgeon will make two small incisions. A flexible wire is then used to grab hold of your problematic vein. Once the vein has been tied up, it will then be removed.
Expect a recovery time that could last up to three weeks if you undergo sclerotherapy.
4. Transilluminated Powered Phlebectomy
Aside from the procedures above, your doctor may also recommend that you undergo something known as transilluminated powered phlebectomy.
Two incisions will again be made in your leg during this procedure. After that, the doctor will use an endoscopic transilluminator and place it under your skin. Using the light as a guide, the doctors will identify which veins have to be removed.
The problematic veins will then be cut and removed with the aid of a suctioning device.
What Can You Do to Prevent the Emergence of Varicose Veins?
Though your gender and genetics may already predispose you to eventually developing varicose veins, there are still habits you can adopt to keep them at bay.
Since varicose veins are known to mostly affect the lower extremities, you can do things to rest your legs and your feet throughout the day. Simply moving around instead of standing still and raising your legs while resting can help with the prevention of varicose veins.
In addition to moving your legs around a bit more, you can also try exercising more regularly. By exercising more frequently, you can reduce the pressure on your veins by losing weight and also improve the circulation of blood throughout your body.
Varicose veins can be deceptive. Though they may seem like only superficial maladies at first, they can actually end up causing real pain and discomfort if left unchecked.
Early on, you will probably have to deal with varicose veins on your own, but you can expect the NHS to step in if things get more serious.
Your doctors can also help you if you want to get rid of your varicose veins as soon as possible.
Even if it will be difficult for you to completely avoid varicose veins, you can still overcome them in the long run.
- What is a Endovenous Laser Treatment of Varicose Veins
- Treatment of Varicose Veins without Conventional Surgery
- Recovery after Varicose Vein Treatments
- Exercises to Help Alleviate Varicose Veins
- NICE Guidelines Varicose Veins