Most patients who consult a vein specialist about their varicose veins are primarily concerned about how ugly they are. They're tired of the swollen, discoloured veins ruining the appearance of their legs and forcing them to resort to wearing long pants or dark stockings to keep them covered.
Others, who have tried their best to ignore the ugly veins and "live with them" rather than seek treatment, finally come to see us at The Vein Institute because they've begun to develop other symptoms.
These side effects include swelling in the legs and ankles, fatigue, low energy levels, and outright pain, as the condition that caused the swollen veins continues to impair their circulatory health.
But other than overt pain and loss of mobility, one of the most annoying side effects of varicose veins that "first timers" tell us finally drove them to seek medical help for their swollen veins is how much they ITCH.
They may be willing to forego wearing shorts and bathing suits and having to cover their legs all the time to hide the swollen blue veins that cover their legs, but they just can't tolerate the ITCHING any more.
What causes varicose veins to itch?
To understand this, you have to understand that varicose veins are caused by a very real circulatory disease called chronic venous insufficiency, or CVI. This condition can happen for many reasons, primary among which are ageing, hereditary, and hormonal changes, but when it occurs, the tiny valves within the veins that are supposed to close after blood flows through them on its way to the heart and the lungs start to malfunction. Instead of closing properly, they begin to "leak," which allows blood to flow "backwards" into the veins and pool there. This is what causes them to swell and become discoloured, as they take on the bluish-purple colour of deoxygenated blood.
This "used" blood, unable to reach the upper body to be rejuvenated, contains a number of toxins such as lactic acid and carbon dioxide. This can cause irritation as the toxins begin to affect the sensitive inner walls of the veins, and can result in inflammation. At the same time, increased pressure inside the veins can cause the walls of the veins themselves to allow blood to leak into surrounding tissues.
Over time, red blood cells that have leaked from the swollen veins begin to disintegrate, depositing haemoglobin and other substances into muscle tissue and skin. The result of all this is that the skin covering these swollen veins can become chronically irritated and inflamed, leading to symptoms that start with itching but can quickly progress to tenderness or actual pain. If untreated, this can lead to a darkening of the skin around the veins that is known as varicose eczema.
What can be done to treat itchy varicose veins?
Varicose eczema can be treated similarly to other common skin conditions using moisturisers or steroid ointments, applied directly to the irritated areas. Wearing compression stockings can also help by improving circulation in the legs.
But these are at best temporary solutions, and only soothe the discomfort, rather than treating the root of the problem. As the varicose veins worsen with time, more and more blood may leak into surrounding tissues, increasing the damage. This can result in further symptoms such as restless leg syndrome or cramping, or ultimately in the development of skin ulcers or thrombosis (blood clots).
More effective and long-lasting relief from itching varicose veins can be provided by eliminating the source of the problem, the varicose veins themselves. Fortunately, given the state of modern venous medicine, this can be done quickly, easily, and painlessly, using minimally invasive procedures that require no hospitalisation or general anaesthesia, and that are performed as "walk in, walk out" outpatient procedures in the comfort of our The Vein Institute clinics. Give us a call at 1300 535 017 and we'll be happy to tell you all about them.