Vein Disease

What causes varicose veins - and when to worry

Vein disease or Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI) will affect up to 20 million of us in the UK, at some point during our lives. Signs include varicose veins (large ‘trunk’ and smaller ‘reticular’ types), and thread or spider veins (‘teleangiectasia’ varicose veins). These symptoms tend to become more severe with age

Varicose veins can appear in the feet and legs; but also in the groin or genitals, hands, arms and face. (When we think of ‘varicose veins’ we usually think of veins in the leg. Strictly speaking, smaller thread veins are also a type of varicose vein: known as ‘teleangiectasia’ varicose veins. Larger and longer veins are sometimes called ‘trunk’ or ‘reticular’ varicose veins)

Take the first step to healthy veins, and book a call today with one of our specialist advisors

Why do you get varicose veins?

UK Vein Clinic illustration showing the cause of Varicose Veins or Venous Insufficiency

Veins allow blood to flow back to your heart, ready to be oxygenated and pumped back around the body. To ensure the blood in them only flows in the right direction, there’s a series of tiny valves inside each vein. Working a bit like a series of gates in a tunnel, these valves close behind the moving blood, to stop it flowing back down through the body

If the valves inside the veins start to fail, it becomes impossible to keep all your blood flowing properly. (One of the hardest journeys your blood makes is the one back to your heart from your feet, for example. To overcome gravity, muscles in your legs have to actively pump the blood up through your body. Extra strain on your body - during pregnancy for instance - can add to the work that your veins, valves, and muscles need to do)

If the valves in your veins get tired or damaged, some of the blood in them can flow back towards the lower parts of the body. This venous blood is no longer moving properly through the vascular system, reducing the amount of blood that's freely circulating, and increasing the size of the veins where it has collected. That’s what causes the veins to sometimes show through the skin. These enlarged veins, in turn, also increase the pressure needed to move blood up through the body

Are varicose veins dangerous?

When blood gets pooled in your veins it can lead to a range of symptoms and related problems. Varicose veins can make the skin dry and itchy. They can cause chronic pain and become swollen. If the problem persists, they can also have a profound knock-on effect on other aspects of health and wellbeing: affecting how we exercise or socialise, for example

But Chronic Venous Insufficiency is a progressive disease: if left untreated altogether, varicose veins can ultimately cause a range of far more serious and lasting problems

If the skin gets broken, for instance, it can take a long time for the bleeding to stop or for these wounds to heal; and if ulcers like these persist there is a risk of infection and other serious complications like further infection in the blood stream (septicaemia) and in the worst case scenarios limb loss

In addition, if the blood in the veins starts to clot this can lead not just to extremely painful swelling (called phlebitis), but to potentially fatal complications like Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). DVT can cause chronic pain, ulcers and swelling but it also carries the risk that a blood clot ends up blocking part of your lungs (a ‘pulmonary embolism’). This blockage can cause permanent lung damage and can, in turn, trigger a heart attack and potentially death

Who's most at risk?

The chances of developing varicose veins increase with age. Around half of all men and women will get them, but women are at a slightly higher risk, and pregnancy can also increase the likelihood that a woman will develop some varicose veins. Certain lifestyle changes - including not smoking, regular exercise, and switching to a low-sodium diet that's also rich in Vitamins C and E - can reduce your risk of getting varicose veins, or the severity of your symptoms

The best treatment for varicose veins

It's possible to manage living with varicose veins by changing what you eat, how often you exercise, and giving up smoking. However, it's not possible to reverse the development of varicose veins without some form of surgery. The evidence for lifestyle changes is very weak

The latest clinical evidence clearly shows that non-invasive surgeries using radiofrequency technology deliver by far the best outcomes for the majority of patients. They are precise and effective, offering lasting relief from symptoms while minimising possible downsides of treatment (like post-op pain and scarring)

Take the first step to healthy veins, and book a call today with one of our specialist advisors

Where to find us

You'll find our clinic at 150 Harley Street, in the heart of London’s prestigious medical district. The nearest Underground stations are Great Portland Street (Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan, and Circle lines), Warren Street (Northern Line), Regent’s Park (Bakerloo line) and Baker Street (Jubilee Line)

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