varicose veins

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are dilated, superficial veins usually in the legs.  The cause is thought to be largely hereditary.  However there are a number of additional factors including being overweight and pregnancy.  Also varicose veins are associated with certain occupations that involve standing or sitting for long periods.

What can I do to reduce the risk of developing varicose veins?

The main cause is hereditary and you can’t change your parents.  However you can reduce the risk of developing varicose veins by keeping your weight under control and exercising regularly.

Will varicose veins help my running?

Running will not directly help your varicose veins.  It will be helpful indirectly in helping to keep your weight down.  Also running will reduce the amount of time you spend standing still or sitting with the legs dependent.  Prolonged sitting is probably almost and bad for your veins and standing still.

Will varicose veins affect my running?

Most runners will experience discomfort and aching in the calves after exercise.  This may be exacerbated by varicose veins.  Some athletes find that wearing support tights or socks, or having their varicose veins treated, reduces the discomfort they experience during and after running.

Wearing running shoes with good cushioning and running on shock-absorbing surfaces such as grass rather than on hard pavements or roads is probably better for your veins and also joints, in particular your knees.

What are the long term risks of varicose veins?

Many people with varicose veins have no aching or discomfort.  However a number of individuals will develop medical problems long term.  These include episodes of phlebitis where the superficial veins clot off and become red, hard and painful.  Occasionally the skin overlying a varicose vein may break down, resulting in marked external bleeding.

The most serious long term risk of varicose veins is the development of skin changes around the ankle that may progress to ulceration.  These changes occur in a minority of individuals but if treatment is deferred until the skin changes develop then the progression of the changes should be halted but will not be reversed.

Can varicose veins be treated?

There are many different treatments available for varicose veins.  The treatment options include minimally invasive methods with a laser or microwave device and injection sclerotherapy.  Traditional open surgery is rarely performed.  Additional techniques are being developed with glues.  However not everybody is suitable for all the treatment options and there are restrictions in place regarding funding for varicose veins treatments in the NHS and the private medical insurance sector.  Your situation can be discussed with your doctor or a vascular surgeon.

Herbal remedies, vitamin supplements, homeopathy and acupuncture have all been used to treat varicose veins.  Although the evidence supporting the use of these methods is often regarded as not scientifically robust there are individuals who do obtain improvement in their symptoms.

– Mr Tom Loosemore, Consultant Vascular Surgeon, Spire Gatwick Park