VARICOSE veins are large, swollen veins which can cause pain and discomfort for the sufferer. Although they can be unavoidable in certain cases, there are ways to reduce the risk. But this can be confusing – especially as there are so many myths about varicose veins and what causes them.
The condition occurs when the small valves inside the veins stop working as they should. Within healthy veins, blood flows smoothly to the heart and is prevented from flowing backwards by a series of tiny valves that open and close. When these valves weaken or are damaged, the blood can flow backwards and collect in the vein – causing it to become swollen and enlarged.
Some people will be more prone than others to develop varicose veins.
For example, if they run in the family or if you have to sit for long periods for your job.
But your risk and the extent of damage can be minimised.
Now an expert – Vanessa Livingstone, lead nurse at the UK Vein Clinic – has debunked five common misconceptions of varicose veins, including the age-old belief that crossing your legs can be part of the problem.
1. Crossing your legs causes varicose veins – a particular favourite old wives’ tale is that crossing your legs, no matter where you’re sitting: sofa, bus or desk, will cause varicose veins.
This is incorrect, as the pressure caused by crossing your legs isn’t strong enough to damage your veins.
Crossing your legs can only affect you if you already have varicose veins, as having them in this position for a prolonged period of time can aggravate symptoms.
However, we do recommend making sure you move about regularly if you know you’ll be sitting down for long periods of time – this ensures there is sufficient circulation in your legs.
2. Varicose veins only occur in women – yes, varicose veins are more common among women, yet men do suffer from them too.
This misconception comes about because men can be more likely to delay getting their concerns checked out by their doctor, unless it causes them significant pain.
Men can sometimes hide their prominent veins more easily, which could lead to not sourcing treatment sooner, unlike women, who often prefer to wear the clothes they enjoy without feeling self-conscious.
3. Only older people get varicose veins – ageing can make varicose veins worse due to natural wear and tear. However, they can affect anyone, of any age.
This could be because you have family members who have varicose veins, meaning you could have a higher chance of inheriting problems with varicose veins as well.
If you’re constantly on your feet all day, even sitting at a desk you may be at risk due to the lack of circulation throughout your legs.
4. Being pregnant gives you varicose veins – mums-to-be have a lot of body changes to contend with – finding out they have varicose veins can sometimes be added to the list.
With a mixture of hormone levels and an increase of blood to help support the baby, these factors can cause some pregnant women to develop varicose veins due to their body being under more physical stress.
Thankfully, most mothers’ varicose veins improve after the baby is born; due to less strain being put on their blood vessels. Meaning, they don’t need to worry about receiving treatment, unless the veins reappear or continue to persist after birth.
5. It’s painful to get your veins treated – many people don’t know that advances in varicose vein treatment have made the removal of varicose veins virtually pain-free.
No more horrific vein stripping, an invasive technique which caused scarring and took weeks for patients to recover from, with many even having the issues return after a period of time.
These days varicose vein treatments are minimally invasive, such as radiofrequency ablation which uses electric currents to make the vein fade away.