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How to Treat Varicose Veins

Varicose Veins are unsightly blue or purple bulging veins that may be lumpy or knobbly in appearance. They are a fairly common affliction, affecting three in 10 adults, and occur when the valves in a vein weaken and fail to work properly.

These valves normally keep the blood flowing effectively through the veins and to the heart. If they become damaged the blood can flow back into the vein and collect. This causes the vein to swell and can produce that distinctive ‘lumpy’ appearance of varicose veins.

As well as an unpleasant appearance, there can be other varicose veins symptoms. Many people with varicose veins describe them as aching or throbbing, and they can be quite uncomfortable, particularly when standing or during warm weather.

Some sufferers may get relief from varicose veins symptoms by raising their legs or using compression stockings. Compression stockings work by squeezing the legs and encouraging the blood to flow towards the heart. They can help to relieve the aching described by varicose veins sufferers. They have not, though, been shown to actually improve existing varicose veins or prevent the formation of new ones.

Compression stockings can also be uncomfortable to wear and time needs to be taken to get the correct fit. They can also cause dry, flaky skin (sufferers should apply emollient cream to prevent this). It is important to replace compression stockings every three to six months as they can lose their effectiveness over time.

Compression tights are available as an alternative to compression stockings, but these are not generally offered on the NHS.

Those who are looking for a more permanent solution should consider undergoing surgical varicose veins treatment. A common surgery used to remove large varicose veins, available on the NHS, is known as litigation and stripping. This procedure involves tying off the affected vein and then removing it through an incision in the leg.

This method is fairly invasive and is carried out under general anaesthetic. Side effects can include pain, bruising and bleeding, but more serious complications are rare. Litigation and stripping has a recovery period of between one and three weeks.

For small to medium-sized varicose veins, sclerotherapy may be a suitable option. This treatment involves injecting a chemical into the vein which causes scarring and seals it closed. This is a less invasive treatment after which the patient should be able to return to work immediately.

Radiofrequency ablation is another treatment. It involves heating the wall of the varicose vein using radiofrequency energy, which causes the vein to collapse and seal shut. This treatment is carried out under local anaesthetic. Another similar method is endovenous laser treatment. Instead of using radiofrequency, this treatment uses a laser to heat the vein.

Radiofrequency ablation and endovenous laser treatment are not generally available on the NHS. Patients who are considering seeking treatment for varicose veins should discuss the various options with their GP in order to determine the most suitable treatment for them.

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