How easy is it to treat varicose veins and thread veins?

The varicose veins on a legs of old woman on gray

About one in four or five people are affected by varicose veins or thread veins - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Leading consultant vascular surgeon and varicose vein specialist, Michael Gaunt runs clinics within hospitals in Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds and Harley Street in London. 

Consultant vascular surgeon, Michael Gaunt, at the BMI St Edmunds Hospital at Bury St Edmunds. Pictu

Consultant vascular surgeon, Michael Gaunt, at the BMI St Edmunds Hospital - Credit: Denise Bradley

Here he explains more about the treatments for varicose veins and thread veins – and dispels some of the myths around the medical conditions.

Q: What are varicose veins and thread veins?

Varicose veins are very easy to self-diagnose as you can see big, blue lumpy veins, in the legs. Thread veins are commonly associated with varicose veins, although they can occasionally appear on their own. These are blue patches of veins in the skin which can cause skin irritation and bleeding if you catch them. 

Q: Who is prone to getting them?

Both men and women can get them, and it is often genetic. About one in four or five people are affected. There are myths that people get them when they are overweight or that these are diseases of old age or pregnancy but that’s not always true. My youngest patient was nine. There is also a myth that varicose veins can be caused by crossing your legs!

Q: Are these purely cosmetic conditions?

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No. There is a real misunderstanding among patients – and doctors – that getting varicose veins is a cosmetic condition, but this is not true. This is a physiological condition, with a spectrum of severity from purely cosmetic at one end all the way through to limb threatening, venous ulceration at the other. The veins will get worse over time and they do cause symptoms. These include making people feel very tired and having night cramps.

Q: What causes varicose veins?

leg with varicose veins

Varicose veins before having treatment - Credit: Michael Gaunt

Primarily, they occur when the little valves inside the veins which allow the blood to go up the leg, against gravity, become incompetent and leaky. The waste blood is then not cleared from the leg efficiently and the veins become visibly lumpy beneath the skin. From those veins the pressure extends to the skin veins and that is why you get thread veins. Removing the varicose veins improves the venous function.

Q: What is the treatment for varicose veins?

leg after varicose vein treatment

The results after having treatment - Credit: Michael Gaunt

As a vascular surgeon, I specialise in minimally invasive treatments that destroy the veins in situ: these include the Endovenous laser and the ClariVein treatment. These treatments are effective, cause very little pain and have a short recovery time – people frequently only stay for around five hours after having the procedure. Treatments can be done with a local anaesthetic (so there is no age limit and we can treat high risk patients) and the results are also much better. 

Q: How bad is the scarring?

The biggest scar is usually between two and four millimetres, so it’s really tiny. Scarring is seldom a problem with these new techniques. Most people are amazed. Patients who had surgery 20 or 30 years ago often had big scars but now in many cases people wouldn’t know you’d even had an operation done.

Q: How do you treat thread veins?

I see a lot of patients who go to beauty salons and end up spending many thousands of pounds on treatments that don’t work. The reason for this is that there’s an underlying venous problem and unless you treat that first, the thread veins won’t disappear – or if they do, they come back very quickly. By coming to a practice like mine, however, if there is an underlying problem, we can correct it; we then treat the thread veins in the outpatient clinic. I use injection microsclerotherapy. Every couple of weeks patients come in and have the veins injected and each time they fade by about 20 or 30 per cent. We also have a special treatment called Veinwave for facial veins. All these treatments can make such a difference to people’s lives. These conditions affect people in different ways and when the psychological stress is relieved, they are very grateful.

Q: How much do treatments cost?

It varies depending on the severity of the varicose veins and how much time is needed in the operating theatre. It’s important to get a proper assessment and then to ask for a fixed price quotation. This is one of those low priority conditions on the NHS, especially post-pandemic. Even where treatment can be provided it is often limited as the practitioners can’t spend the time that I can to get the ultimate results. I like to see and assess all my patients myself; I then do the procedure and follow-up myself too. 

For more information visit michaelgaunt.com, email megsecretaries@michaelgaunt.com or call 01223 305858.