The history of varicose vein treatments dates back millennia and the treatments have varied over time. My mother’s varicose veins look large in my memories of my childhood. The gnarled look of them, the pain, her hospital visits, the general trouble with them, and I certainly appreciate how the condition can impact on your life. And my mother is just one of an estimated 50% of Australians who suffer from varicose veins.
Varicose veins are abnormally large veins that occur mainly in the legs, and have plagued humankind since we first began walking. They cause aches and pain, swelling, itching, mobility problems and skin issues such as ulcers. While they can certainly be very unsightly, treating them is not merely a matter of vanity. Varicose veins can lead to serious complications, such as clotting, pulmonary embolism and Deep Vein Thrombosis in rare cases.
Modern medical treatments are sophisticated and advanced, but treatment for varicose veins actually dates back millennia. The history of varicose vein treatments has been found in various documents uncovered. In papyrus documents written by a man called Ebers in 1500BC, he describes them as “tortuous and solid, with many knots, as if blown up by air”, and that’s a pretty good description!
Ebers Papyrus – 1500 BC
Around 400BC there is a drawing of a varicose vein made on a votive tablet which was discovered at the Acropolis. And at the same time, Hippocrates, known as “the father of medicine”, began discussing varicose veins and how they may correlate to leg ulcers.
Popular treatments at the time included vein punctures, compression stockings or bandages and the use of cautery (which uses a hot or caustic agent). However, there was no definitive treatment, and physicians used a variety of ideas to treat varicose veins. Some physicians employed surgery, using forceps, blocking veins and controlling bleeding. Surgery at the time was painful and rudimentary—of course, modern varicose vein surgery is completely different.
Surgery progressed through the ages as a treatment in the history of varicose vein treatment. In about 600BC, a Greek surgeon discovered that the great saphenous vein (which is the longest human vein) could be removed or ligated. In 1485AD, an understanding of the condition progressed when Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomically correct drawings of lower limbs led to an appreciation of the way the venous system in the human body operates.
Leonardo da Vinci – 1485 AD
A few hundred years later, sclerotherapy was popularised, a method where acid is injected into veins to deliberately cause a blood clot or thrombus.
Through the 1800s, much medical advancement took place. For example, Charles Gabriel Pravas invented the injection syringe constructed from glass, rubber and leather, followed by the invention of the hypodermic needle by Francis Rynd.
It was in the 1900s that surgery was greatly improved, with physicians now offering treatments including saphenous vein litigation, vein perforation (treating ulcers), and the use of special agents to close varicose veins.
Discoveries were made in relation to chronic pelvic pain and vein congestion (a condition labelled Pelvic Venous Insufficiency). A man called Sven-Ivar Seldinger is credited with discovering the method of accessing veins via guidewires.
We then reached modernity and the advent of modern medical treatments for vascular disease. Such treatments incorporated guidewires, catheters, angioplasty and stents. Nowadays, treatment options have become even more elaborate and complex, with newer medical applications such as duplex ultrasound scanning, diode laser, radiofrequency ablation and foam sclerotherapies becoming popular.
While in the past, complex surgery to strip the veins was undertaken, nowadays surgery is fast and easy. It may take a half hour in a clinic with a virtually painless laser treatment. But surgery is typically only necessary for a minor proportion of people who have varicose veins. Choosing the right surgical procedure will depend on factors such as your symptoms, age and overall health.
Treatment of the condition begins with a proper clinical diagnosis, where the veins are assessed with ultrasound. After diagnosis, your healthcare professional may initially recommend up to six months of self-care at home, for example taking regular exercise, avoiding standing for long periods, elevating the affected area and using compression stockings.
Three common treatments these days include sclerotherapy (injecting chemicals to block the veins), laser or ablation therapy (using heat to seal the veins) or surgery (to remove veins). You may also be encouraged to consider treatments such as a ClariVein device or VenaSeal, both of which are systems for closing veins.
Having healthy leg veins is very important, so talk to your healthcare professional today to discuss your varicose veins treatment options. To speak with one of our qualified staff, please contact us by calling (03) 9813 1535 or 1300 730 100