Varicose veins can be more than just a cosmetic concern. They are often seen as a vanity condition, and only treated when they become exceptionally unsightly, but they can cause additional issues. Do you know what symptoms your veins are causing? Because, like an iceberg, not everything is visible from the surface.
A few years ago I attended an open clinic on this subject where the surgeon confidently informed us that there was no harm to having varicose veins, other than the way they look. However, having had a few small vein issues in my left calf area since the birth of my children a quarter century ago, and as I approached 50 I began to wonder if indeed some of the symptoms I'm experiencing are actually due to these relatively insignificant veins.
My left ankle started swelling two years ago so I visited my doctor, who confirmed that it was in fact 'just an issue of age and nothing to worry about'. Subsequently, the regular swelling behind my left knee, the increase in smaller varicose veins (and spider veins), the cramps in my calf muscle and the throbbing pain and heaviness in my lower legs - accompanied by foot pain and an intense itching - have all been dismissed as just a part of growing older. I do tend to over-worry ailments so left this on the back burner until after a long drive to Scotland in January, which had me in the car for three hour blocks of driving across two days. After another episode of swelling and pain, accompanied by feeling quite unwell and seeing my right leg also start to grow some more prominent veins, I decided to make some independent enquiries about vein removal.
Tales of terrible procedures have always been told about the removal of varicose veins so it was with some relief to discover modern treatments have significantly advanced from the days of 'stripping' veins out, with post-surgery 'downtime' greatly reduced. In January 2017 I attended another open evening, this time at North Downs Hospital, to find out more from Vascular Surgeon Mr Gary Maytham.
It was clearly obvious that Mr Maytham knew his area of expertise, and he confidently walked us through some of the causes of this condition, and a variety of new and effective treatments. He was happy to inform us that there were even more advanced treatments being trialled but he only offered tried and tested methods that are carried out to the highest level, with proven results; and we were thankful to discover the days of stripping veins was over for some. I was personally surprised to find out that varicose veins are not just a cosmetic issues, and could actually be the cause of many of the symptoms I was experiencing.
My daughter is only in her mid-twenties, but due to a family history of this condition she is very conscious already of any darkening in her leg veins or associated pain. And that brought about the question of when to do something more about your varicose veins, when self help has not halted the problem or alleviated the symptoms. According to My Maytham, the right time to intervene is when the patient feels that their individual issues are changing how they live their lives, when their veins are making the decisions - whether that's being a pain and restricting you from activities you enjoy, interfering with sleep or simply meaning that the dress you like is a little longer to cover an unsightly blue vein line. However trivial or growing the issue, if it has an effect on how you live then the time is right to do something about it. And remember, varicose veins are not a gender specific issue - men also suffer with them.
The problem is, once you decide to take action with your veins, the NHS may not - and the majority of referrals today do not make the selection process. This means more people are either living with their conditions for longer or until they are classed as 'case-worthy'. Alternatively, more patients are also opting to take the decision in to their own hands and self-fund their treatment if they do not already have private healthcare* in place.
Following the open evening at North Downs Hospital, I went back to see my doctor, who felt my symptoms still weren't related to my varicose veins as they are so small by comparison. A friend of mine has the most marvellous array of veins to look at on her legs; purple raised pipes and total discolouration, yet she only suffers from the occasional ache. I have a slight raise in a few lower veins but nothing to really belie the true issues and symptoms I am having. My legs feels heavy and tight at the end of each day. I wear flight socks as I type and I am due to pick up some compression stocking later today because I am in pain and discomfort on a daily basis. I will be using the stockings as much as possible for support so that I can spend a night sleeping with my left leg under the covers rather than ungainly sliding it up the closest wall to drain! What this has shown me is that while my legs may look like little more than just a cosmetic issue, and others seem so obviously in need, my problems lie deeper than just under the skin. I have more symptoms than can be seen - and a re-visit today to my doctor, and on his reading of Mr Maytham's report, he now agrees and has issued the compression stockings he feels will help.
It is only by chance that after we attended Mr Maytham's talk I was lucky enough to be referred to him at Gatwick Park Hospital, where he has recently starting taking NHS patients. Fortunately he ordered a scan of my legs which confirmed varicose veins in both - along with a borderline issue with reflux in my left thigh. Surgery on the varicose veins could relieve some pressure on the reflux issue and may reduce my overall symptoms. The bad news, I don't have private healthcare, nor meet the criteria for NHS cover. I will also need to take precautions when flying to support the reflux issue - and on top of this I am looking to personally fund the treatment at a cost exceeding £3000.
When it comes to personally financing your own treatment I would suggest looking at alternative options to those offered by companies such as Zebra Finance, who are recommended by some hospitals as a self-funding lender option. If you are not a home-owner and self-employed they will not offer you any assistance. If you do qualify then check their rates against a personal loan from your bank because a preliminary quote comes out far higher on interest over the period than some banks are offering at present.
As with any money borrowing, shopping around is a necessity to ensure you are getting the best deal. Additionally, it may be worth looking at other hospital options because a quick search show that there is quite a difference to hospital costs across the country. For me, the cost is always measured against the surgeon and if you feel comfortable and trust the person who will be working on your body then I would factor this against a cheaper option.
Hopefully this summer I will be able to follow-up with a step-by-step review on the surgery. But for now, if you feel you have issues with your varicose veins then I would encourage you to seek the opinion of a specialist in this area, if the issue is having any kind of impact on your quality of life. And remember, varicose veins are not just confined to your legs! More information on varicose veins, causes, symptoms and treatment can be found at WebMD