There are so many myths, urban legends, lies, misnomers and confusion surrounding varicose veins. Here are 16 myths regarding veins and the truth behind them. We get asked about these myths so often that we thought addressing them would be very helpful. For further information on varicose veins and their treatment, click here to see Ponosh Vascular’s specialist information.
Myth 1 : Varicose veins are a cosmetic issue
Varicose veins are not simply a cosmetic issue. At best, they are a cosmetic concern with few symptoms. More commonly, they lead to painfully swollen, aching and tired legs that worsen with even a minimal amount of exercise or standing. At worst, they indicate a progressive disease process called chronic venous insufficiency, which causes poor wound healing, chronic swelling, pigmentation and ulcers.
People with spider or small varicose veins who have ultrasound imaging which shows that they do not have any underlying more severe venous disease or venous reflux, are fortunate that their varicose veins are indeed just a cosmetic problem.
However, for the majority of patients ultrasound imaging scan will find a more serious and hidden underlying varicose vein problem of which they were quite understandably unaware when they were simply looking at bulging veins on the leg.
The UK National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has recognised that if anybody has varicose veins (and suffers any symptoms from them) they should be referred to a specialist vascular service such as Ponosh Vascular. NICE endorses and encourages proper investigation using venous ultrasound, followed by treatment using the latest techniques.
In most cases, patients with prominent varicose veins or those with symptoms, the veins are vest treated. Varicose veins don’t get better by themselves, and will deteriorate if left alone. In approximately 3 to 6% of people, they may progress to cause venous leg ulcers. For an even higher proportion of patients, leaving their veins untreated may lead to a worsening of marginally less serious symptoms including irreversible skin damage, thrombophlebitis, venous eczema or swollen ankles.
Myth 2 : Only women get varicose veins
Many early studies by doctors seeing patients who came to ask for treatment for their varicose veins suggested that women were more likely to suffer with varicose veins than men. But we now know that this is a varicose veins myth. It’s simply the case that women are more likely to do something about varicose veins, and therefore the female gender represents the higher statistical proportion of patients.
Further studies have subsequently shown that varicose veins occur roughly in the same proportions in both men and women, but that men are much more likely to ignore their symptoms
Myth 3 : Varicose veins are an inevitable symptom of aging.
Not every person over a certain age develops varicose veins, and there are ways to prevent them. It is true that the risk of varicose veins increases with age as aging causes wear and tear on the valves in your veins that regulate blood flow, but young people unfortunately develop varicose veins too.
Myth 4 : Surgery is the only treatment option for varicose veins
If your grandmother had varicose veins, surgery was the only option for her. But now, there are many “keyhole” rooms based minimally invasive varicose veins treatment options available for those who wish to treat their varicose veins. Yes, surgery is still an option and may be preferred in certain situations, but there are several minimally invasive approaches available. The key is to see a Vascular Surgeon who can tailor your treatment to give you the best long term clinical and cosmetic outcome.
Alternate treatments include :
Myth 5 : You can’t prevent varicose veins
Although venous insufficiency in many people is a progressive process, some people may be able to slow the onset of varicose veins. Preventative measures include :
Myth 6 : Varicose veins are always inherited
Although you will be at a higher risk of developing varicose veins, just because one or more of your family members have varicose veins, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are guaranteed too. Only around 50% of patients have a family history of varicose veins.
Myth 7 : Varicose veins are always visible
While the varicose veins you notice are right at the surface of the skin, they occur deeper in the body, too, where you can’t see them. Whilst some patients have visible varicose and spider veins, other people develop heaviness, tiredness and aching legs or skin changes caused by dysfunctional veins that you can not see. An ultrasound is always essential to assess your vein function and work out your treatment options. Just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean you don’t have vein problems.
Myth 8 : Pregnancy causes varicose veins
Whilst it is generally accepted pregnancy causes veins, this is not the case. Women who had thought they had developed varicose veins during the pregnancy had actually already had hidden varicose veins which were visible on a pre-pregnancy ultrasound scan.
Varicose leg veins are not actually caused by the pregnancy, although pre-existing varicose veins will worsen during pregnancy due to the increase in blood volume and changes in hormones. For most women, this is a temporary condition, and their veins return to their previous size after delivery.
However, there is a specific type of vein dysfunction known as Pelvic Congestion Syndrome (PCS) that is made worse by pregnancy. This can cause pelvic symptoms such as pain, bloating, irritable-bowel type symptoms and vulval/perineal veins. It can also be a secondary cause of lower limb varicose veins and symptoms. Click here for more information on PCS.
Myth 9 : You should only treat your veins after your children
We know that varicose veins swell during pregnancy and this causes pain and discomfort. In addition, we also know that the risk of phlebitis (superficial blood clots) in varicose veins is much higher at the end of a pregnancy and immediately after the pregnancy.
For that reason, modern advice is to have varicose veins treated ideally before pregnancy itself or between pregnancies for the best outcome. When treated properly, although there is a slightly higher risk of some small veins returning in the years following pregnancy, these are usually simply treated with touch up sclerotherapy and do not require more complicated solutions.
Myth 10 : Varicose vein treatment is painful
You may have heard stories about treatments for veins in the past having a long and painful recovery Technology and techniques has advanced, and many minimally invasive treatment options are now available.
“Key-hole” minimally invasive options, such as radiofrequency or laser ablation surgeries produce good results with little downtime. These in-rooms procedures are “walk-in & out” with a day or two of recovery. Another in-rooms option is sclerotherapy, which injects a solution that causes the vein to disappear. Most people see full results in about two months with minor discomfort and no downtime.
Even modern surgical techniques are very different to past procedures with better outcomes and faster recovery. Whilst not as fast as minimally invasive options, for some patients, surgical options are a better alternative with 95% of patients at Ponosh Vascular back to work in 5-7 days with minimal pain.
Myth 11 : Veins will always come back after treatment
When treated properly with modern techniques in a specialist clinic, recurrent rates for varicose veins are extremely low. This is based upon your treatment being tailored to your specific vein problems based upon an accurate ultrasound. There is not a “one sized fits all approach” for everyone and every patient has their veins treated in a slightly different way for the best long term clinical and cosmetic outcome.
Done properly initially, re-treatment with endovenous ablation or surgery is very rare. Some small cosmetic veins may recur in the future, often many years after initial treatment and these can be addressed with simple low risk “touch-up” treatments such as sclerotherapy or topical laser.
Concern over a low risk of minor future cosmetic touch up treatments is not a reason to avoid having your veins fixed and avoiding more sinister vein complications.
Myth 12 : Insurance doesn’t cover varicose vein treatment because its cosmetic
In Australia, private health insurance does cover some types of vein treatment even if your veins are cosmetic. Private insurance does fully cover some treatments such as varicose vein surgery and treatment for pelvic congestion syndrome in a hospital setting. as Ponosh Vascular is a no-gap provider.
Unfortunately, due to a number of reasons (government and health care limitations and stupidness), most modern minimally invasive in-rooms treatments are not covered by private insurance. Whilst not ideal, Ponosh Vascular aims to make these procedures as affordable as possible in the context of your treatment being undertaken by a Vascular Surgeon in a specialist treatment room using the most up-to-date techniques. Medicare does cover some of the costs.
Myth 13 : Standing for long periods causes varicose veins
Many people believe that if you work in a job where you have to stand for long periods of time it can increase your chances of developing varicose veins. However, there has never been any definitive result based upon this assumption.
Generally, symptoms of existing varicose veins will be more noticeable when standing rather than sitting or lying.
Myth 14 : Crossing your legs causes varicose veins
Crossing your legs or wearing tight pants doesn’t cause varicose veins. External pressure on your veins, like crossing your legs, is minimal and doesn’t exert enough force to damage your veins. However, depending on the duration and location of the pressure, it can exacerbate the symptoms of varicose veins. Also, if you remain in the same position for long periods of time, it is more difficult for your blood to flow properly.
Try to alternate between sitting and standing to move blood in your legs. Exercise and using the muscles in your legs can return blood from your legs to your core and improve symptoms of varicose veins.
Myth 15 : Running or exercise causes varicose veins
Any exercise which includes movement of the legs is actually good for varicose veins. Any sort of movement which promotes circulation will lead to more blood pumping from the legs and to the heart.
Although there is much discussion about whether strenuous exercise worsens varicose veins, there is no evidence to suggest that running is the cause of varicose veins.
Myth 16 : Veins are a sign of “bad circulation”
Varicose veins do not mean you have “bad or poor” circulation, nor do they increase the risk of stroke or heart attack or cause cold fingers or toes.
Many people not only consider veins to be the same as arteries, but they are not.
The arterial side of the circulation system is ‘high pressure’ and problems on this side result in strokes, heart attacks, aneurysms and ‘dead legs’ requiring bypass surgery or amputation.
The vein (also known as ‘venous’) side of the circulation system, the blood is ‘low pressure’ and problems on this side result in varicose veins, clots (such as DVT), thrombophlebitis, swollen ankles and venous leg ulceration.