What are Varicose Veins?
The word Varicose means ‘enlarged, dilated and tortuous’. Varicose Veins can occur in a number of areas on the body but by far the commonest area is in the legs. This is thought to be because standing and walking place extra pressure on leg veins.
Varicose veins are blue in colour because of the thickness of the vein wall and because the blood in these veins has less oxygen.
Are there different types of Varicose Veins?
Varicose Veins are graded from Grade 1 to Grade 4 depending on how large they are and whether they bulge above the surface level of the skin (with Grade 4 being the largest).
Reticular Varicose Vein is a term referring to larger blue veins that feed into an area of spider veins .The word Reticular comes from the Latin reticulum meaning ‘little net’ and means relating to or forming a network. ReticularVaricose Veins feed into areas of spider veins, and hence form a network of veins. When treating spider veins these feeder veins usually also need to be treated for the best results.
Truncal Varicose Vein is a term referring to a Varicose Vein that comes from one of the main two vein systems in the legs, either the one on the inside of your leg which is called the Great Saphenous Vein System, or the other on the back of the knee called the Short Saphenous Vein System.
What causes Varicose Veins?
Vein drainage should be from the surface veins inwards to the deep veins and then upwards towards the heart. Varicose veins develop in these superficial vein systems when the one way valves inside these main veins become faulty. If the valves inside these surface veins become stretched and faulty it results in blood pushing back to the surface of the skin and causes the veins to bulge and become Varicose.
It is not clear exactly why vein walls stretch and the valves become faulty in some people and not others. Studies have shown that there is reduced elastin content in the walls of varicose vein walls compared with normal veins and scientists have also identified proteins that can bind to DNA and start the process that causes Varicose Veins. It appears there is probably a primary inherited structural issue that predisposes to varicose veins forming under secondary pressure on the valve and vein walls.
Who is at greatest risk for Varicose Veins?
Estimates have the incidence of Varicose Veins as around 30% of adults.
Risk factors for Varicose Veins are factors that identify a higher risk of developing Varicose Veins and include:
Sex: Women are much more likely (around twice the incidence)
Genetics: Strong link to a family history
Obesity: Higher incidence in overweight
Pregnancy: Time of increased incidence and worsening severity. Weight gain, pelvic pressure, increased blood volume and hormonal changes all have been implicated.
Age: Increasing incidence as people get older, presumably from the cumulative effect of more years standing and walking on the legs.
Occupation: There is an association with jobs that involve prolonged periods of standing
What are the symptoms of Varicose Veins?
In the majority of cases there is no significant pain associated with Varicose Veins, however possible symptoms resulting from congestion include heaviness, tiredness, cramping, aching, pain, and swelling. There is also an increased incidence of restless leg syndrome in patients with Varicose Veins.
Whilst the greater the degree of venous reflux (backflow) and the larger the Varicose Veins the more likely the presence of symptoms, it is not a direct correlation. Some patients with very large Varicose Veins can be asymptomatic whereas some patients with fairly small Varicose Veins can have significant symptoms.
What are the possible complications from Varicose Veins?
Longstanding back pressure in the veins can result in Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI). This can cause skin changes including brownish pigmentation (staining from iron in the blood) and excema (red,dry,itchy skin).
In severe cases it can cause irregular white patches at the ankles (atrophie blanche), shiny, hardened skin (lipodermatosclerosis) or ulceration (Venous Ulcer).
There is an association between having Varicose Veins and an increased risk of developing deep venous thrombosis (DVT) and superficial thrombophlebitis (SVT).
In the presence of venous congestion minor injury to the skin can result in more prolonged bleeding and the skin will also heal more slowly.
What are the treatment options for Varicose Veins?
Varicose Veins on the surface of the skin can be treated by Surface Sclerotherapy if there is no significant underlying venous reflux from deeper veins. This may be by liquid or foam sclerotherapy depending on the size of the veins. Surface Varicose Veins are too large for treatment by Surface Laser or Surface Radiofrequency to be effective.
If there is underlying reflux in Varicose Veins then an Ultrasound guided procedure is required to control the underlying reflux. A Mapping scan will determine which of the Ultrasound procedures is optimal. The choice of Ultrasound Guided treatment is between Ultrasound Guided Sclerotherapy (UGS), Ultrasound Guided laser (also called Endo Venous Laser Therapy) or Ultrasound Guided Radiofrequency (also called VENEFIT).
What if I have both Varicose and Spider Veins?
Whilst some patients only have Varicose Veins and others only have Spider Veins, it is quite common for many patients to have both Varicose Veins and Spider Veins. If the varicose Veins and Spider Veins are in the same area as a general principle the larger and deeper Varicose Veins are treated first. Treating the underlying Varicose Veins does not usually result in any significant improvement in the Spider Veins and the Spider Veins need to be treated as a secondary procedure. If Spider Veins are treated first without controlling the underlying deeper vein reflux the results are not as effective and also the chance of getting side effects such as pigmentation and bruising are greater.