Long, sunny days, a rising thermometer. It’s a swimming costume, hat, and sunbathing season. And with it, several precautions to take for your skin and eyes. But also your legs. Because with the heat and wearing shorts or skits come the problems of heavy legs and varicose veins.
How do you get rid of varicose veins? Surgery to remove the dilated vein was the only answer for a long time. But in recent years, effective and less invasive techniques have become commonplace. Here’s the lowdown.
What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are the final stage of venous insufficiency. It mainly affects two superficial veins in the legs: the greater saphenous vein and the lesser saphenous vein.
When the vein is permanently dilated, its valve mechanism prevents blood from flowing back downwards, and going against gravity no longer performs its function. It’s like a river not flowing in the right direction!
This is why patients complain of pressure in the lower limbs, commonly known as heavy legs.
Who is affected?
Varicose veins affect a third of the population, or more than 20 million people. It’s more common in women. It increases with age, but it can appear at a very young age too.
What’s more, it’s a disease with a significant hereditary component, and it affects overweight people, those who work in a job that involves prolonged standing, and those exposed to heat.
What are the consequences?
Varicose veins are not a severe health issue; they develop slowly over time. You don’t have to run to the doctor if you have no symptoms. But you must be aware that it never goes away on its own; it will worsen. Over time, the veins become increasingly sluggish.
While not immediately fatal, varicose veins can cause leg pain, particularly in summer. Beyond the discomfort, there are aesthetic consequences: you’ll see unsightly veins on your leg. Moreover, this stagnant blood can damage the skin over time, which becomes drier. When it sets in, eczema can develop.
The second problem is ruptured varicose veins. “When the vein is very prominent, the slightest shock will cause a wound that will bleed a lot,” she explains. More impressive than serious, it is necessary to compress the wound with a clean cloth, lie down and elevate the leg.
More seriously, phlebitis is the most common complication when the varicose vein has developed for several years. If this blood clot remains in the superficial vein, it is benign, known as paraphlebitis. On the other hand, if it obstructs a more prominent deep vein, it’s called deep phlebitis, with the risk of the clot rising and causing a pulmonary embolism.
There could also be leg ulcers forming, like a chronic wound, as if the body were getting used to having a hole in the leg. The slightest wound can have trouble healing when the skin is significantly damaged. It’s painful and can infect or even threaten the leg.
In this case, you need to seek medical attention quickly. It’s a more common problem than you might think. Ulcers affect 2% of a country’s population and 5% of the over-80s, and more than half of leg ulcers are linked to varicose veins. It’s a complex problem to treat: half of all ulcers take more than six months to heal, requiring dressings and regular nursing care.
How are varicose veins detected?
If you are concerned about varicose veins, you can talk to your GP. They may refer you to a vascular physician. They will start you with a clinical examination and questioning to check that they are varicose veins.
This will follow up with a Doppler ultrasound to analyze the venous circulation, see if the veins are sluggish, and check that the deep veins are working correctly. As we have seen, the consequences are less severe if only the superficial veins are affected.
What are the new treatments?
A range of hygiene measures (walking, elevating the legs at night, wearing compression stockings, etc.) and medical treatments (venotonics) to treat varicose veins when they become too unbearable.
But sometimes, more radical treatments, such as surgery, are needed. Nevertheless, new techniques have appeared in recent years, simplifying patient life.
- Sclerotherapy – For minor varicose veins, sclerotherapy techniques are practical, simple, and anesthetic-free. A product is injected into the affected vein, causing it to harden. For a small vein, the product will be injected in liquid form; for intermediate veins, the product will be in foam form. What’s more, this technique leaves no scars.
- Laser or radiofrequency ablation:To treat large varicose veins, doctors favor surgery to remove the veins. This is a good solution, but a traumatic one. It requires hospitalization, an operation, between 2 and 3 weeks off work, stitches, and more. This is still the preferred option for very major veins and in cases of recurrence.
- Thermal radiofrequency– This is a less invasive method based on thermal occlusion. Doctors insert a catheter into the vein and burn it from the inside. The significant advantage of this procedure is that it is carried out in the operating theatre, but under local anesthetic, on an outpatient basis, without stitches or time off work, and with a quick and easy recovery.
The patient resumes their everyday life a few hours later. These modern machines deliver heat very precisely,” she continues. This limits the risk of burning around the vein, skin, or nerve.
- Skin grafting for ulcers– Another new feature is that a skin graft can be performed when the ulcer, one of the complications of varicose veins, has difficulty healing. The doctor takes a small skin graft to boost circulation and awaken this dormant subsoil. These small pieces of skin are about the size of a grain of rice and are taken from the thigh.
It is positioned over the ulcer and then closes the whole thing up. This reduces pain and speeds up the healing process. This is a highly beneficial technique for patients and a light one: it is performed under local anesthetic on an outpatient basis. But this procedure must always be carried out in addition to treating the cause of the leg ulcer.
Many hospitals and clinics are designed to focus on these types of innovative, less intrusive surgeries, such asWest Medical. As always, be an informed consumer. Do in-depth research about the various treatment options available to you and the medical centers and hospitals conducting these treatments before signing up.
This way, you can be assured that you are well taken care of before, during, and after the treatments, and you know you’re in the best care.