When you should worry about varicose veins – and what to do about them

woman looking at her legs considering Me Clinic varicose vein removal
woman looking at her legs considering Me Clinic varicose vein removal

Varicose veins are swollen, twisted blood vessels just beneath the surface of the skin. They look dark blue or purple and often bulge from your skin. They can be unsightly, but are they dangerous? Should you worry about varicose veins?

Varicose veins can develop in several ways, but usually emerge or become increasingly noticeable with age.

Your veins have one-way valves to help blood flow to your heart. When these valves become damaged or stop working, blood can flow back to your legs, pool and stretch your veins – causing varicose veins.

‘Spider veins’ occur when the blood that collects in varicose veins flows backwards into capillaries and enlarges.

Varicose veins become more common with age and are more likely to develop if you:

  • stand for long periods of time
  • are overweight or obese
  • are not physically active
  • are going through menopause
  • taking hormone replacement
  • have a family history of varicose veins
  • have had a blood clot or a leg injury
  • smoke or have been a smoker.
  • Heavy sports or leg exercises over time.

When should you worry about varicose veins?

Varicose veins aren’t so dangerous, but they often progress and can eventually cause pain, ulcerations and other symptoms.

In the early stages, varicose veins usually don’t have accompanying symptoms and pose little risk. They can be unattractive, but if managed, and if you’re not bothered by their appearance, they are of little concern.

Do varicose veins lead to DVT or blood clots?

Most health professionals say varicose veins aren’t life- or limb-threatening and shouldn’t increase your chance of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or blood clots.

DVT does not usually occur with varicose veins because varicose veins occur close to the surface of your skin. However, severe varicose veins can lead to increased risk of DVT. You should talk to a health professional if you are even remotely concerned about this.

While varicose veins often occur in the legs near the surface of the skin, they can also form in other parts of the body.

When veins bulge or become badly twisted, your blood flow can become sluggish or slow. This can cause superficial thrombophlebitis, phlebitis, or superficial venous thrombosis. These superficial clots can lead to leg swelling, redness, pain and tenderness in the affected limb or around the affected vein.

What can you do to manage varicose veins?

Avoid standing for long periods. If you do need to stand, it’s best to keep moving to help blood flow to your heart. Elevate your legs if you sit for long periods and avoid crossing your legs and ‘pinching’ your blood vessels.

Exercise also helps with blood flow. If you are overweight, losing weight can help. You can also try some home remedies, which may provide some temporary relief.

Wearing compression socks or stockings can help. If that doesn’t help, you may wish to consider a surgical procedure to seal or remove the offending veins.

Varicose vein treatments

According to Me Clinic, experts in varicose vein removal, your options for varicose vein treatment include sclerotherapy, endovenous laser treatment (EVLT) varicose vein and surface vein laser treatment.  We asked the clinic to elaborate on the treatments and expectations.

Q. What is sclerotherapy?

A. Sclerotherapy is the recommended treatment for smaller accessory veins to prevent their deterioration into larger bulging varicose veins. Sclerotherapy can eliminate large veins, either alone or in conjunction with less invasive outpatient surgery. It is the most effective treatment of leg veins.

Sclerotherapy treatment and expectations

A tiny needle injects a sclerosant solution into the vein. The solution replaces the blood in the vein and ‘corrodes’ the walls of the vessel. Your body’s natural healing process helps the vein to decompose, shrink and eventually disappear.

Following your treatment, the affected veins may darken and the area may appear bruised, but this will subside over time. You should wear compression stockings or socks for up to seven days after the treatment. This will reduce the side-effects and improve the healing process.

You should be able to resume regular activities immediately. However, excessive standing or vigorous activities are not advised for two to four days.

Q. What is endovenous laser treatment (EVLT)

EVLT is a very effective treatment for larger veins such as the Greater Saphenous and Small Saphenous veins. It’s effective at treating large veins and has a short recovery period with the patient up and walking immediately compared to the surgical stripping of veins.

EVLT treatment and expectations

During EVLT, a fibre-optic probe is inserted into the vein. The vein is then heated along its length causing it to shrink. The treated vein develops new collagen during the healing process. Any remaining surface varicose and spider veins can be treated with sclerotherapy.

Bruising is expected, and in some cases your veins could turn dark temporarily. They will return to normal. You may experience some tenderness and redness along sections of the injected veins after the treatment. Walking will reduce any discomfort. Wear compression stockings or socks for up to seven days after the treatment.

Varicose vein surgery

Q. What is an ambulatory phlebectomy?

This is surgical treatment for visible small to large tortuous veins. Under local anaesthetic, very tiny incisions are made to remove the vein. The incisions become almost invisible when healed. This method is suitable for patients who require a relatively quick recovery from surgery.

Q. What about varicose vein surgery?

Surgery under general anaesthetic is advised for larger veins where the main valves in the groin or back of the knee are defective. It may entail tying off the vein in these areas, or in addition, removal of veins from the legs. This is the older and traditional method for treating large varicose veins and usually requires a hospital stay. This method is rarely used these days. Most patients can be managed with endovenous laser treatment.

What are the varicose vein treatment costs?

While the decision to undergo vein treatment should not be based on financial factors alone, it is likely that cost will still form a large part of your decision making.

Visit Me Clinic for a guide to likely costs. However, you should attend a consultation for an accurate assessment of your conditions and more accurate price for treatment.

Disclosure: Me Clinic is a YourLifeChoices affiliate. YourLifeChoices is dedicated to keeping our content and resources free. To that end, we may earn money should members click some of the links on this page.

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Publisher of YourLifeChoices – Australia's most-trusted and longest-running retirement website. A trusted voice on Australia's retirement landscape, including retirement income and planning, government entitlements, lifestyle and news and information relevant to Australians over 50. Leon has worked in publishing for more than 25 years and is also a travel writer and editor, graphic designer and photographer.

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