Recently, The Daily Mail reported that French women understand one crucial element of anti-ageing: legs. Every year they visit a phlebologist for a leg MOT, nipping varicose veins and thread veins in the bud before they start to look bad — a sure-fire way to maintain the kinds of fabulous pins only Carla Bruni and Catherine Deneuve seem to cultivate.
Typically, in the U.K. we wait until there’s not only a visible, but uncomfortable, problem before we deal with veins in the same way. This might be because historically varicose veins have been treated on the NHS, through a very painful ‘high tie and strip’ operation that takes weeks to recover from, and so we’re generally adverse to seeking help for something that is often only largely cosmetic anyway.
But untreated varicose veins are actually a potentially massive problem, and one that up to 40 per cent of women and 25 per cent of men will experience in their lives. Painful and aching legs that feel “heavy”, even when at rest, can sometimes result in damage to the skin and, in very worst-case scenarios, ulceration. Varicose veins can also be a precursor to more serious circulation problems, like Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). I don’t mean that as a scaremongering tactic – I mean it in the sense that we must take our vascular health seriously.
Varicose veins are swollen, enlarged veins that are often blue or dark purple in colour. They can be “lumpy, bulging, or twisted in appearance.” They occur when blood doesn’t flow properly through the veins in the legs. When blood doesn’t flow properly, pressure builds up and valves become faulty. This means that blood doesn’t get to where it needs to go, and can pool in the wrong places. Symptoms of varicose veins include aching or throbbing, itchiness, and swollen feet and ankles. Bigger varicose veins don’t necessarily cause bigger problems.
Often genetics are to blame for unsightly leg bumps and lumps, but our sedentary lifestyles are increasingly impacting varicose vein development. Pregnancy, long periods of standing and obesity are all factors in varicose veins, but we needn’t suffer for long. Threat of varicose veins can be limited with walking, to get blood pumping, and maintaining a healthy weight.
Seeking help early can save development of more serious problems. New treatments are minimally invasive and not at all like we have come to imagine. The National Institute for Health Care Excellence (NICE) has guidelines on treatments for varicose veins that suggests well over 90% of patients suffering from varicose veins can be treated with minimally invasive procedures (laser, radiofrequency, cyanoacrylate adhesive) rather than surgery.
I’m personally a fan of these techniques: they close the faulty vein by sealing it off from the inside. There’s hardly any pain, have great results, and can be done within an hour.
Because of the procedure’s total ease, I’m finding that both men and women are coming to me even if it is “just” for cosmetic enhancement, a la the French. I’ve seen first-hand how debilitating advanced varicose veins can be to self-confidence and body image, with patients telling me after successful treatment that they feel they’ve wasted years of their lives refusing holidays, avoiding fashion, and generally feeling terrible about themselves because of the unsightly and uncomfortable problem.
It’s time to speak up and discuss this condition and all of its painless, simple solutions.