Varicose Veins and Your Health, by vascular expert Professor Mark Whiteley

At this time of year, as our attention turns to the summer months ahead it is natural that we become more conscious about our figures. As we make it our mission to get our body beach ready, there is one condition in particular which many will be concerned by – varicose veins!

Mark Whiteley Headshot cropped

Here, internationally renowned vascular specialist Professor Mark Whiteley of The Whiteley Clinic (London & Guildford) answers some of the most common questions on what the condition is, who is likely to suffer, and what the best methods of treatment are.

(Q) Who is most at risk of developing varicose veins?

(A) There is an old myth that it is only people who are older and over-weight who are likely to develop varicose veins however, this is completely untrue. Contrary to popular belief the condition is actually hereditary and in reality up to 40% of the UK adults (both male and female) will suffer from the condition throughout their lives.

(Q) What causes the condition to occur?

(A) Varicose veins occur when the valves in our legs stop working properly, which makes the blood flow down the wrong way. The cause of this is genetic – it depends on your mother and father. Often they can be identified as the bulging veins which protrude from the legs however, worryingly in half of all cases the veins will be completely hidden with the sufferer showing no overt signs of the condition. The first they know of it will be swollen ankles, or itchy red patches on their lower legs.
(Q) It is often said that the condition is purely cosmetic. Is this true?

(A) Worryingly, there are many myths and old wives tales which would lead you to believe that varicose veins are purely cosmetic and unfortunately this leads a lot of people to simply ignore them.

Even thread veins have underlying “hidden” varicose veins in up to 89% of cases causing them, and in some cases the hidden veins will be severe. Big varicose veins, whether seen on the surface or “hidden” away under the skin can cause problems if not fixed – from aching to swelling of the ankles, skin damage and itching, clots and in a few, even ulceration.

(Q) Does pregnancy have an impact on varicose veins?

(A) Pregnancy does not cause varicose veins to occur however, if someone already has an underlying venous condition then it is true that pregnancy may make that condition worse and ‘bring it to the surface’. Following the birth of a child sufferers may find that the symptoms and discomfort will subside after a few months however, it is likely to return with a vengeance during subsequent pregnancies if the appropriate treatment is not sought. Some patients develop vaginal or vulval varicose veins during pregnancy and, if these lead into leg varicose veins, need a completely different scan and treatment to fix.
(Q) What would your advice be if someone thinks they may have varicose veins?

(A) If you are in any way concerned that you are suffering from a venous condition my advice would always be to go and see a specialist vascular consultant who will arrange for their specialist vascular technologist to give you a venous duplex scan. This scan will tell the consultant whether there are any hidden problems and from here, they will be able to decide upon the best course of action.

Treatment wise, there are a number of cutting edge endovenous techniques such as laser, radiofrequency, foam, coils, glue and Clarivein which are now available which are a far cry from the old and outdated stripping techniques. Unfortunately, many medical professionals are unaware of these newer more effective treatments, which is why it is so important to go and see a specialist (someone who deals with the condition day in, day out). At my clinic, we understand that every patient is different and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. With this in mind, we treat each patient as an individual and aim to treat them both quickly and effectively with a minimally invasive procedure which will allow them to be back on their feet again within a matter of hours.

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