Varicose Veins - Information leaflet Dr Sarah Jarvis

Information leaflet Dr Sarah Jarvis

This information leaflet was written by Dr Sarah Jarvis,
and first appeared in the 3rd October 1996 issue of DOCTOR

What are varicose veins

Arteries carry blood away from the heart, and round the body. Veins carry blood back to the heart. Varicose veins are swollen veins on the surface of the leg. They usually start on the calf, but can be found right up to the groin. They are more obvious when you stand up.

What causes varicose veins

Varicose veins affect humans because we stand upright rather than run around on all fours.

This means that gravity puts pressure on the veins in the legs, and they have to work harder to pump blood back upwards to the heart.

Sometimes this pressure can break the valves in the veins which should only let the blood go one way - towards the heart. This means blood can collect in pools in the veins.

They are made worse by standing for long periods, by being constipated or overweight, and by pregnancy.

Who gets them

Women suffer from varicose veins more often than men.

You may find that varicose veins appear, or get much worse, when you are pregnant.

If you are on your feet all day, (especially standing still a lot of the time) you are more likely to suffer from varicose veins.

What are the symptoms

You will usually see varicose veins before you get any other problems from them.

They are like wriggly lines above the surface of the skin on the legs. You may find that they start to ache as the day goes on. you may also notice that your feet and ankles swell towards the end of the day, especially in hot weather.

If varicose veins get very bad, they can cause ulCERS on the ankles.

They can also get sore and inflamed, causing redness of the skin around them.

When should I go to my Gp

You may find that when you first get achy legs from varicose veins, simply wearing support tights or stockings will relieve the problem.

If your symptoms become troublesome, you should make a routine appointment with your Gp to ask their advice.

Certainly, if you see any sign of an ulcer on your ankle, you should make an appointment as soon as possible.

Varicose veins are highly unlikely to cause any problem that will mean you need to see your Gp urgently.

What tests will my Gp do

Your Gp will probably just ask you some questions, and examine you.

What is the short term treatment

This depends on what symptoms you are getting.

Your Gp may prescribe, or advise you to buy, support tights or stockings.
If you are very constipated, which may be making the problem worse, they may treat this too.

If you have inflamed patches or an infection, you might get antibiotics or cream.
If you have developed ulcers as a result of your varicose veins, you will need to be referred to a nurse for regular dressings.

Will I need long term treatment

You may need an operation to strip the veins out of the leg, or a minor operation to close the veins off. This is done by injecting the veins with a special liquid and does not need a general anaesthetic.

Afterwards you will need to keep your legs bandaged and to walk at least three miles a day for some weeks.

How can I stop them getting worse

Avoid constipation and lose weight if you are overweight.

Take regular exercise and avoid standing still for long periods, wriggle your feet and clench your calves to keep the circulation going, and try to get up and stretch your legs regularly.

Will I need regular checkups

Your Gp will probably not need to see you again unless your symptoms suddenly get worse.

Will I need to go to hospital

This will depend on how bad your symptoms get and whether or not you need an operation.

This is a DOCTOR information leaflet for patients
You may print this out and copy it for your own information.
This is one of a series of leaflets compiled by London Gp Dr Sarah Jarvis

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