I frequently get asked “Aren’t varicose veins just cosmetic and of no health importance?” Indeed, I see many patients who have already been turned away by the NHS, having been told “Varicose veins are cosmetic and the NHS doesn’t offer cosmetic surgery.”
Well, this is simply not true. And it’s not just me saying that: the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the UK (NICE – nice.org.uk) recognises varicose veins as a health issue. NICE, supported by the Royal College of Surgeons, states that “all patients with varicose veins who have symptoms …or complications… should be referred to a vascular service.” (Guideline CG168)
So what are the symptoms? Varicose veins are caused by faulty one-way valves giving rise to a condition called “superficial vein reflux” in which blood in the leg veins flows backwards in the wrong direction. In the same way that acid reflux in the stomach can cause indigestion symptoms, superficial vein reflux may cause leg ache, swelling and throbbing after standing for a long period and symptoms are often worse in the evening or at night. Varicose veins frequently deteriorate; the veins enlarge and spread and if you have varicose veins for long enough, you may suffer one or more significant complications. It may be many years before a complication arises but there are five important ones to be aware of.
- Firstly, phlebitis is characterised by inflammation and clotting inside the varicose veins. The area is hot, red and painful. The clot in the vein can spread very quickly into the deep veins causing a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Everyone suspected of having phlebitis should have an ultrasound scan of the veins.
- Secondly, varicose eczema signifies that the skin is damaged and deprived of nutrients and oxygen. The rash occurs on inner lower calf just above the ankle. Varicose eczema is vulnerable to ulceration.
- Thirdly, varicose veins may bleed. This is uncommon, but big varicose veins on the lower leg are vulnerable and under very high pressure, so if they are injured, bleeding from varicose veins can be very serious.
- Fourthly, varicose veins are a risk factor for DVT. Severe varicose veins increase the risk of developing a deep vein thrombosis in certain situations such as a long-haul flight or admission to hospital.
- Lastly, varicose veins are a major cause of leg ulcers; 8 out of 10 leg ulcers are caused by unhealthy veins and early varicose vein treatment can prevent them developing. In people who already have a venous leg ulcer, vein treatment gets it healed more quickly than traditional bandaging alone.
So if varicose veins are important and if NICE and the Royal College of Surgeons advise that they should be treated, why is it so difficult to get NHS treatment? Well, we all know that the NHS is under pressure and it has to cope with conditions like cancer, heart attack and trauma to name but a few. Sadly, varicose veins are not a priority and many people are forced to seek private treatment.
My team and I in Dorset provide safe, effective, non-surgical treatments under local anaesthetic on a walk-in, walk-out basis. Our treatments are carried out by medical specialists in line with National Guidance including that of the Royal Colleges and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. If you would like to know more, call 01935 873 951 for a free, no obligation chat with our adviser or request an information pack; alternatively, you can use our contact form