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Varicose Vein Clinics in Birmingham, Wolverhampton, the Black Country, South Staffordshire and surrounding areas

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Varicose Veins Overview

What are Varicose Veins? Varicose veins are dilated, tortuous veins under the skin in the legs. They can occur in any part of the leg but are commonly found on the inside of the calf or thigh, the back of the calf or across the front of the thigh. They are common and occur in up to 30-40% of the population.

What causes varicose veins? Varicose veins usually occur due to problems with the one way valves in the main superficial veins in the leg – usually the great saphenous vein (GSV) or the small saphenous vein (SSV). When healthy, these valves allow the return of blood from the legs towards the heart, helped by the squeezing action of the calf muscles when we walk. When we stand still, the valves close to prevent the return of blood back down the legs.

Varicose veins valve failure When the valves fail, blood returns the wrong way down the veins (reflux) which leads to high pressure in the veins of the legs – made worse by spending most of the day sitting or standing. This increased pressure causes the progressive enlargement of the veins under the skin leading to visible varicose veins. It is also this increased pressure in the veins which leads to many of the symptoms of varicose veins.

The cause of the valve failure is not well understood but I see this commonly occurring in people with other family members who also suffer with varicose veins suggesting that some are hereditary. People with jobs that involve sitting or standing for long periods appear to be particularly affected and factors such as pregnancy and the effects of female hormones may explain why women are more likely to suffer.

What are the symptoms of varicose veins? Varicose veins, as well as appearing unsightly, can cause a wide range of symptoms. Many people tell me that their legs feel generally achy and heavy, especially at the end of the day. Others complain of pain, throbbing or itching over a prominent vein and some find that they have restless legs at night time.
Varicose vein leg

Varicose vein foot

Venous leg ulcer Can varicose veins cause complications? Complications of varicose veins include:

a. Bleeding – due to the high pressure in the veins this can be dramatic and alarming but simple first aid measures of lying down and elevating the leg above the heart whilst applying pressure usually controls this effectively.

b. Thrombophlebitis – occurs when a blood clot forms in a varicose vein. The affected vein becomes hot, inflamed, hard, lumpy and is very painful. Whilst this is not a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), in some cases they can progress to a DVT.

c. Varicose Eczema – increased pressure in the veins of the legs can cause areas of dry, scaly itchy skin, usually in the lower leg, around the ankle or over the varicose veins themselves. Treating the underlying varicose veins helps the eczema to resolve in most cases.

d. Skin Changes – areas of pink or brown skin discoloration can occur in the lower leg, often at the site of minor trauma. This condition is known as lipodermatosclerosis. The affected skin becomes fragile and further injury may result in a venous leg ulcer. Treating the associated varicose veins will help to prevent progression of this skin condition and in turn reduce the risk of ulcers.

e. Venous Leg Ulcer – these are one of the most feared complications of varicose veins. Leg ulcers affect 1% of the population as some point in their lifetime. Healing often takes several months of treatment with compression bandages. Treating the underlying varicose veins gives the ulcers the best chance of healing and helps to prevent them coming back again.

Can I have my veins treated on the National Health Service? Varicose veins treatments have been identified as ‘Procedures of Low Clinical Priority’. This means that in most cases varicose vein surgery will not be funded on the NHS. Some patients with complications of their varicose veins however will be eligible for NHS treatment. Your General Practitioner will be able to tell you whether funding for your particular condition is available in your area.

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