Varicose veins and spider veins are truly a mystery in some respects – what we know is why you may be more likely to be susceptible to them but there are very few (if any) certainties. My inbox is flooded (pun distastefully intended) on a regular basis with questions about this topic and I truly feel for those affected by varicose veins as they greatly affect one’s self confidence and are painful buggers.
What are varicose veins?
Warning to those who are squeamish when it comes to veins and blood: the following nerdy bit isn’t graphic but it is certainly not dinner conversation.
Varicose veins are veins that have become damaged over time, leading to the walls of the vein slackening and losing their elasticity. Inside veins, there are tiny valves that only let blood flow in one direction (not the band) by opening to let blood through and closing to stop it from falling backwards. When the walls weaken, so too do these valves and so they cannot stop the blood from falling backwards effectively, leading to swelling and enlarging of the veins. This swelling is what causes the dilated, sticky-outy appearance of varicose veins.
What do varicose veins look like?
If you’re thinking that you may have varicose veins, trust me, you’ll know. They are raised and sometimes twisted in appearance and are usually found somewhere on the legs and sometimes around the uterus of pregnant women. They can be blue, red or flesh coloured.
Who gets varicose veins?
When most people think of varicose veins, they think of older women. This is because women are more prone to getting varicose veins – it is thought that female hormones may have the effect of relaxing vein walls.
Additionally, age is another factor when it comes to varicose veins, as the vein walls lose their elasticity. Genetics are also thought to play a part when it comes to the development of varicose veins.
If you work in a job where you stand up for long periods of time, bad news as you are also more inclined to develop them as standing for long periods of time is not good for circulation.
Although pregnancy is a wonderful time of creation and happiness, it comes with more curses than an old Egyptian artefact. As the amount of blood in the body increases to help to support the foetus, it puts the circulation system under pressure. On top of this, you have an influx of hormones. Poor circulation + influx of hormones = increased likelihood of getting varicose veins.
What are spider veins?
Spider veins are like a milder form of varicose veins. They are smaller and closer to the surface of the skin and are usually red or blue. They look like tree branches and can cover either a small or large surface area. They are caused by the same factors as varicose veins but can also be caused by sun exposure, especially on the face.
Are Irish people more susceptible to varicose veins or spider veins?
No, we are not. If we are, it would be down to the same demographical factors as mentioned earlier. However, due to the paleness and translucency of our Celtic skin, varicose veins and spider veins can have a more visible appearance and often appear nearly greenish.
How can I prevent varicose veins and spider veins?
When it comes to prevention of varicose veins and spider veins, your focus is on attempting to strengthen the veins and deal with any inflammation. You will need to provide your body with…
- Bioflavonoids/Flavonoids: Bioflavonoids are compounds with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties that help to take strain off the blood vessels, aid in circulation and reduce blood pressure in the arteries. You can get your helping through root vegetables such as carrots and turnips, soy beans, tea, broccoli, aubergine and flax seeds.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C strengthens veins and fights inflammation and you can get it from peppers, kale, broccolli, papaya, strawberries and brussel sprouts to name but a few – however, I would not recommend eating them all together!!
- Regular exercise: Exercising when you can helps to get that blood pumping through your veins!!
- Compression stockings: They may not be the most attractive but slapping them on when you can (ie. in the comfort of your own home) is key to preventing the formation of varicose veins and spider veins
Which treatments are available for varicose veins and spider veins?
Thankfully, as technology rapidly and continuously develops, there are plenty of routes other than surgery. In regards to varicose veins, you should speak to a medical professional to find out which treatment route is best for you.
- EVLT (Endovenous Laser Ablation) with Nd-YAG laser
- This is more suitable to thread veins and spider veins. The Nd-YAG laser involves a catheter being guided into the affected areas. A tiny laser is passed through the catheter and seeks out the colour of the blood in the vein. Bursts of energy heat and seal the vein. The blood and fragments of vein are later removed by the body’s scavenger cells. Yes, the treatment sounds less than appealing but it is performed under local anaesthetic and as the laser is set on a wavelength that would only affect the vein, the surrounding skin is left unharmed.
- Sclerotherapy is a simple, anaesthetic-free way to deal with varicose veins. Your leg (or affected area) will be raised and a chemical called sclerosant is injected into veins, where it then damages the lining of the vein, causing blood to drain from the vein. After the injection, pressure is applied from the outside to the veins to stop blood from returning. It takes between five to thirty minutes, depending on severity and the amount of veins being treated. The cons of sclerotherapy are that you may feel burning or cramping in the affected area and that sclerotherapy may need to be repeated more than once.
- If a GP or other healthcare professional believes that EVLT or sclerotherapy will not be effective, they may suggest surgical vein ligation and stripping. During this procedure, a small incision is made at the end of the vein, an instrument is threaded through it and the vein is removed. This is done under anaesthesia and with minimal down time (a few days, usually).
As varicose veins can be painful and usually more severe than spider veins, I would always recommend to speak to your GP before anyone else (although, no harm in getting a move on with the Vitamin C and bioflavonoids).