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Varicose Veins myths

 

There are very few disease processes that are as widespread or as common as varicose veins, which are reported to affect up to 1 in 4 adults at some stage in their lives.

Although some people do seek treatments simply because of the unsightly cosmetic appearance of the veins; varicose veins can cause a multitude of symptoms, discomfort and problems if not treated effectively.

There are many common myths or “old wives tales” concerning varicose veins. Below we discuss some of the more common versions:

 

The prevalence of varicose veins is greater in women than it is in men

This myth is mainly the result of poor research methodology; where doctors have simply counted the number of people who have presented to them with the complaint, without looking at sufferers who have not attended for consultation. This meant that when research into the prevalence of varicose veins was carries out in 1990 women were perceived to have varicose veins more often than men, as there is a tendency for women to be more health conscious in general and more willing to see their GP.

 More recent research, done at the end of the 1990’s in Edinburgh, when people were stopped on the streets and the number of people with varicose veins were counted, showed that statistically there was no significant difference between the number of men with varicose veins and  the number of women with varicose veins.

 
 
Pregnancy causes varicose veins”
 
Pregnancy & varicose veins

This myth suggests that many women do not have varicose veins before their pregnancy but the varicose veins developed during or as a result of their pregnancy.

The statistical information showing an equal prevalence between men and women suggests that this might be untrue, as if pregnancy did cause varicose veins, then men should not have the same prevalence to the condition as women .

Additionally, if would make sense that, if pregnancy did cause varicose veins more women would be seen for varicose veins during their child bearing years, but this is not the case.

Research performed in Chester in the late 1990’s using duplex ultrasound shows that only women who have lost their valve function before getting pregnant go on to get varicose veins after pregnancy.

Women increase their blood volume by 40% during pregnancy, and this, along with the hormones during pregnancy that allow the tissues to stretch, means that varicose veins that were not visible before pregnancy are now apparent.

The one exception to this rule is Pelvic Congestion Syndrome and women who go on to have a normal vaginal delivery of their baby. In this group of 2% of women during pregnancy the varicose veins that are apparent as vulval, vaginal or legs veins are due to a problem higher up in the pelvis, namely the ovarian veins, pelvic veins or iliac veins as the cause of the problem

 

 

Whilst varicose veins may not be preventable, it might be possible to minimize them.
  • Daily exercise can improve circulation. Even a walk can make a major difference.
  • Maintain a healthy weight range during pregnancy.
  • Elevate your legs and feet whenever possible.
  • Avoid crossing your ankles or legs when seated as it can hinder circulation.
  • Avoid standing or sitting for extended periods without moving around.
  • Wear special support tights or hose.
  • When lying down, keep your feet elevated with a pillow.

(The inferior vena cava lies on the right side of the body. Lying on the left will relieve the vein from the weight of your uterus, and this in turn will reduce the pressure on the veins in your feet and legs).

 

 

Your doctor or health care provider may advise you to use prescription-strength compression stockings.

Maternity compression hosieryThey can be very effective in improving circulation and are available from Wear-Compression.co.uk.

These stockings are thicker and tighter than standard tights. They are tightest at the ankle and they get looser the higher up the leg they go.
This helps the blood flow up the leg and on to the heart. Suitable compression hosiery can help prevent swelling, and this can stop varicose veins from worsening.

The best way to use them is to put them on before you get out of bed. If you can put them on while you are still lying down, you can prevent the blood from pooling in your legs. Once you have them on, keep them on all day.

Whilst prescription-strength stockings can be a little uncomfortable, they can help prevent varicose veins which can be extremely uncomfortable and unsightly.

 

 Select here to view the full range of Compression Hosiery, for use during pregnancy.

 
 
Varicose veins are only cosmetic”
 

Visible varicose veins are normally blue or green, bulging through the skin of the leg.

As these are the veins that are seen people, including doctors, assume that these are the problems. In fact,  these are not the problem but the outcome of an underlying source.

The underlying cause is the leg muscle pump not working efficiently, and as this fails and gets worse so does the varicose veins.  An easy analogy in understanding this, is to think of the varicose vein as a weed. If you just chop off the top of the weed it will continue to keep coming back time after time. Varicose veins are the top of the weed. If you just take them out they will come back time and time again. To treat a weed, and the varicose veins, you need to treat the root of the problem; the underlying issue of the truncal veins.

 
 
Varicose will re-occur so no point in treating the varicose veins” 

Varicose veins have often been referred to as cosmetic problems and a minor problem and we now know in most case this is wrong.

There are a few reasons why varicose veins can come back:

  • Inadequate treatment techniques
  • Inadequate assessment
  • Consultants with limited knowledge in the field

We now know that the only currently available accurate means to assess varicose veins is by performing a comprehensive 'colour duplex ultrasound' investigation to map the veins and their problems.

The old way of assessing varicose veins was just by looking at the leg and guessing the veins that were the problem. The inadequacies of this are apparent in that the wrong vein were often treated.

Now with colour Doppler ultrasound techniques, we can not only accurately map the veins before-hand, showing the exact problems, but we can also use ultrasound during the procedures to ensure correct treatment.

The treatment that was the preferred method a few years ago was stripping of the underlying veins that were causing the varicose veins. We now know that there is a high chance of these veins growing back. Veins are part of the connective tissue and, in a similar fashion to the way a cut to the hand will heal, if you cut a vein the vein tries to heal.

Localised bleeding from the operation acts as a ‘food’ for the vein and so it re grows through the blood, called revascularisation (re growth) or neovascularisation (new growth).

Varicose veins were quiet often treated by non-specialised consultants or junior staff as they were perceived to be a minor problem and as such the condition was not given the respect it deserved.

With new techniques such as endovenous laser ablation and radiofrequency treatments, consultants becoming more specialised in varicose veins treatments and the advance of diagnostic imaging we are now seeing varicose veins do not come back if they are treated correctly.

 

Standing for long periods causes varicose veins
 

The cause of varicose veins and venous related conditions such as thrombophlebitis (clotting of the blood in the superficial veins), venous eczema and venous ulcers is the failure of the leg pump, with the pump not being able to pump the blood back out of the leg.

The failure of the leg pump is predominantly down to the failure of the valves inside the veins. Research has shown that by the age of 9, 1 in 20 girls has already lost their valves and by 18, 1 in 9.

Just because the valves have stopped working though does not mean to say that varicose veins are immediately eminent, as damage is caused over time to the tissues. So, people who stand for long periods are not more prone to varicose veins, but standing make the problem come to light sooner

 

Varicose veins are hereditary”

Of all the myths we have commented on, this is the only one that comes close to the truth.

Varicose veins do have a 'familial trait'; that is to say that they tend to ‘run in the family’. In reality, it is the 'leg-pump failure' that runs in families.

This does not mean to say everyone who has 'leg-pump failure' running in their family will go on to develop symptoms. Some sufferers may not develope visible varicose veins but a significant number of these may go on to acquire other symptoms of the muscle pump failure such as :

  • Swollen and Aching legs
  • Haemosidering (brown staining)
  • Itching legs
  • Thread veins
  • Lipomatosclerosis (Hardening of the skin and tissue)
  • Venous eczema
  • Bleeding veins
  • Leg Ulcers
A recent healthcare study suggested that in cases where both parents had varicose veins or other symptoms of venous insufficiency, there was an 80% chance of their children developing varices in later life.

Why we get varicose veins and who will get varicose veins are questions that are not yet fully understood. We only understand the traits and the tendencies, but with more research and improvements in techniques and investigations, hopefully we can not only understand varicose veins more clearly but also treat them in the best possible way.
 
Continue here to read about vein problems realted to Varicose Veins


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