Varicose veins treatment
Conventional and herbal treatment of varicose veins in the legs
Varicose veins can be found in many parts of the body. However, the term when used refers to the most common form of varicose veins in the body – those in the calf and thigh. This page describes the treatment options available for varicose veins in the legs.
Many people experiencing symptoms of varicose veins will not require treatment. However, treatment may be considered if you experience troublesome symptoms, or if you suffer from complications of varicose veins. In addition, some people seek treatment for varicose veins for cosmetic reasons.
Varicose veins may be treated conventionally by your doctor with the use of support stockings, injections or surgery. Doctors open to the use of herbal remedies may also consider recommending Horse Chestnut seed extracts for varicose veins. In addition, don’t forget that there are a number of ways of helping yourself with changes in diet and lifestyle – follow the link to Tips for Healthy Legs.
As many people reading these pages will be interested in what complementary medicine can offer, we discuss first, herbal treatments for varicose veins, followed by what your doctor might recommend.
Herbal treatment for varicose veins
Many complementary or alternative treatments have been used for varicose veins, including vitamin supplements, homoepathy and acupuncture. However, the most established of these alternative varicose vein treatments is the use of herbal medicines, especially those containing extracts of horse chestnut seed.
Many will recognise horse chestnut seed as the conker. These have, at various times, been used as cattle feed, as well as furnishing children with ammunition for conker battles.
Herbalists also have a long tradition of using horse chestnut seeds to treat varicose veins. The herb is now prescribed by doctors in countries such as Switzerland and Germany where it is routinely recommended as a treatment choice, filling the gap between the use of compression stockings and more invasive methods such as injections or surgery.
Horse chestnut seeds contain active substances, particularly one known as β-aescin, beneficial for varicose veins. A good amount of research information is available in the public domain on how horse chestnut seed extracts work.
This information shows us that horse chestnut seed extract increases ‘venous tone’ (makes veins less stretchy), has anti-inflammatory and anti-swelling properties [Barnes J, 2007]. In addition, a review of 17 clinical studies by the Cochrane Collaboration [Pittler MH, Ernst E, 2006] concluded that ‘horse chestnut seed extract is an effective short-term treatment for symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency (varicose veins)’.
Horse chestnut should not be used during pregnancy despite the fact that pregnant women have a greater tendency to develop symptoms of tired, heavy legs. Use a horse chestnut seed gel externally instead.
Conventional varicose veins treatments
Your doctor or hospital specialist will treat varicose veins in a number of ways:
- Support tights. These are also called compression stockings and work by putting pressure on the varicose vein, compressing or squeezing the tissue around the vein to help blood flow up the leg. Although this ‘treatment’ does not address the fundamental problem of damaged valves, it can help to alleviate early symptoms of varicose veins such as tiredness or heaviness of the legs and ankle swelling. In addition, compression stockings may help to prevent complications of varicose veins developing. One downside of support tights is that they can often be uncomfortable to use, especially during the warmer summer months
- Slerotherapy. This treatment involves injecting a chemical agent or foam into the varicose vein, causing it to go into spasm and causing inflammation, with the aim of scaring and sealing the vein. A number of injections into several parts of the vein are usually required at each treatment, which may need to be repeated after a year or so. After the injection treatment has been carried out, the leg needs to be bandaged for a few days, followed by the use of compression stockings for a few weeks. Treatment does not usually require an overnight stay in hospital
- Surgery. Surgical treatment of varicose veins physically removes the vein and is carried out under general anaesthetic. A number of techniques are used, depending on severity of the condition and where the veins occur, but all require incisions (cuts) into the skin. Surgery for varicose veins used to involve a few days stay in hospital, but treatments are now often performed as day cases. After surgery, the leg is bandaged until the wounds heal, followed by the use of compression stockings for a few weeks. It is normal to have one or two weeks off following surgical treatment
- Radio waves and lasers. These are newer techniques for treating varicose veins and termed ‘Radiofrequency ablation’ and ‘Endovenous laser ablation’ respectively. Ablation means ‘elimination’ - basically, the treatment involves harnessing the energy of radio waves or a laser to heat up the varicose vein, causing inflammation which will scar and seal up (eliminate) the vein
- Transilluminated phlebectomy. A phlebectomy is a treatment that removes a vein. This is another new treatment for varicose veins and involves passing a light under the skin to help the surgeon identify the offending vein which is then removed using suction. The advantage of this treatment is that it reduces the number of cuts or incisions in the skin. The procedure is carried out under general or in simpler cases, local anaethetic
Diet and Lifestyle advice
Whether or not you have had treatment for varicose veins, there are a number of lifestyle changes you can make to help yourself. These steps include exercise, achieving a healthy weight, avoiding crossing your legs and keeping your bowels moving (ie. avoiding constipation). For more information, follow the link to varicose veins prevention.