Varicose veins have been described throughout history, with some sources reporting that varicose vein treatments have existed since 1550 BCE. Luckily, medical and surgical techniques developed in the last few thousands of years, and modern varicose vein treatment approaches are minimally-invasive, fast, and relatively straightforward.
What Are Varicose Veins?
First, it’s important to understand what varicose veins are and how they form. Then, we can explore the treatment options and how they work. Varicose veins are large, twisted veins that usually appear in the legs, and often have a green-blueish colour. The surrounding area is often swollen, painful, and itchy. In many cases eczema or ulcers may also form on the skin around a varicose vein.
The reason why varicose veins form is that each vein has tiny valves inside it that help the blood to circulate, by assisting the flow of blood from the foot back to the heart. These valves are working against gravity, and any additional pressures on them can cause the valves to fail. When the valve fails, blood stops being pushed upwards as effectively, and it can begin to pool in the vein. This is what causes the vein to swell and twist. As the vein gets worse, blood seeps into the surrounding tissues, causing the leg to swell and feel increasingly heavy and painful.
The primary issue with varicose veins that most people notice is that the veins become painful and uncomfortable, as well having an unattractive appearance. However, the larger issue is that varicose veins can develop into issues such as blood clots and deep vein thrombosis. As such, it’s important that varicose veins are treated as soon as possible.
How Have Treatments Developed Over Time?
Early varicose vein treatments involved vein punctures, cauterisation, and using compression bandages to help the veins recover. Slowly, techniques have become more refined, and in the modern age of varicose vein treatment, much more sophisticated technologies are used, such as ultrasound, radiofrequency ablation, foam sclerotherapy, and lasers. Foam sclerotherapy is a chemical-based treatment, which is the alternative to heat-based therapies. Both are effective, appropriate treatments for varicose veins, but foam sclerotherapy is more appropriate for smaller veins, as it tends to have a less-effective longer-term success profile.
There are two main heat-based techniques: endovenous laser ablation (EVLT) and radiofrequency ablation. In many ways they are quite similar, but EVLT uses heat that comes from a laser, while the radiofrequency ablation heat source is electricity. For heat-based treatments success rates are very high, and up to 98% of operations are effective at sealing the varicose vein without it returning. For both heat and chemical-base treatments for varicose veins, the operation recovery is fast. Modern treatments are outpatient surgeries, which means you can be in and out of the surgery in only a few hours, and usually only local anaesthetic is used. After the surgery with a few days of recovery and painkillers, you can typically go back to work and normal activities. If you usually engage in heavier exercise, you may want to wait a couple of weeks until the surgical site is completely healed.
Compression stockings are still used, and the development of their styles and forms is also useful for patients. There are now typically multiple levels of compression available: low, medium, and high, for patients with different severities of venous issues. Many compression stockings are also fashionable now, with different styles available for people who (for example) need to travel a lot for business or may need to fit compression stockings in with a fashion-conscious or business outfit.
Varicose veins have been a problem for people for a long time, but modern surgical and treatment approaches are becoming increasingly non-invasive and simple. The development of new surgical techniques over time is fascinating, and varicose vein sufferers can now reap the benefits of modern medical technologies.