19.01.2021

Varicose veins surgery rises because of middle-aged runners

An avid runner has revealed how she was able to jog longer distances after having cosmetic surgery to remove her varicose veins.

Wendy Hookway, 60, of Felsted in Essex, took up running last June, but immediately struggled – but she was unsure why.

Like many of the 15 million Britons with varicose veins, she didn’t realise the knock-on effects varicose veins can have physically.

But within days of her final treatment to remove them, the mother-of-two was able to run further and has lost more than a stone.

Mrs Hookway is just one of many Middle-Aged Runners in Lycra – or MARILs – that has sought treatment for her varicose veins.

Wendy Hookway, 60, of Felsted in Essex, took up running last June, but immediately struggled - but she was unsure why

Wendy Hookway, 60, of Felsted in Essex, took up running last June, but immediately struggled – but she was unsure why

Mrs Hookway, mother to Sarah, 37, and Billy, 33, told MailOnline: ‘The week after my final treatment I was power walking and by August I was running 5km (3 miles).

‘My legs no longer hurt and felt lighter. It made exercise so much easier and within a couple of months I had lost nearly a stone in weight.’

The matron at Felsted School admitted that before the procedure she ‘couldn’t even manage walking and running 3km (1.8 miles).

Mrs Hookway, who has four grandchildren, told MailOnline: ‘My legs were heavy and aching. I thought it was simply because I was unfit.’

Laser treatment for varicose veins are on the rise because more and more middle-aged people are taking up running, doctors say.

Runners are keen to rid themselves of the constant aches, pains and embarrassment the condition can cause while jogging.

Some 20 per cent more runners aged between 40 and 60 had treatment last year, according to figures from Veincentre, which specialises in removing varicose veins.

The clinic’s founder, Dr David West, said runners in their 40s and 50s now account for 15 per cent of all patients, up from practically zero just five years ago.

15 million people in Britain are thought to have varicose veins but the condition can lead to more serious skin problems such as ulcers if it is left untreated

Mrs Hookway, married to 62-year-old Alan, had her varicose veins removed using a technique called endovenous laser ablation (EVLA) at Veincentre, which has seven clinics across England.

EVLA is done with local anaesthetic and involves inserting a laser into the vein through a needle and burning the faulty vein.

WHAT ARE VARICOSE VEINS?

Varicose veins are gnarled, enlarged veins, which typically affect the legs and feet.

For many these are just unsightly, but some may experience pain and discomfort.

Varicose veins could also raise the risk of circulation problems.

Other symptoms may include:

Varicose veins are more likely to affect the elderly as age causes skin to lose elasticity and valves in veins to weaken.

They are also linked to pregnancy as gestation causes the volume of blood in the body to increase but reduces the flow from the legs to the pelvis.

Obesity and a family history of the condition also increases the risk.

Varicose vein complications can include:

People can reduce their risk of varicose veins by exercising, eating a healthy diet, avoiding high heels, elevating the legs and changing their sitting or standing position regularly.

Treatment can include compression socks or laser surgery.

Achy legs – a complaint by many patients with varicose veins – are caused by valve failure in the surface veins of the leg. These valves normally enable blood to flow up the leg to the heart and prevent it going down the leg.

The blood needs to get back to the heart to get new oxygen from the lungs. But if the valves don’t work, it causes varicose veins.

Instead of the blood returning to the heart to get refreshed with new oxygen, it pools in the distended – varicose – veins in the legs.

That is why many patients with varicose veins complain of tired achy and heavy legs, which become much lighter immediately after treatment, says Dr West.

‘People who have their varicose veins removed find exercise and especially running easier,’ he said.

‘Plus they are less ashamed of their looks so more willing to get out in sports gear to show their legs and participate in physical activity on roads and in gyms.’

The recent boom in demand for varicose veins treatment follows the same surge in demand from MAMILS – middle-aged men in lycra.

They wanted their varicose veins removed to avoid revealing their unsightly ‘grandpa legs’ as they worked out in the gym or cycle.

But running has become the go-to exercise in the past year.

More than two millions mile are run by Brits over the age of 50 each year, according to Parkrun UK, which organises free weekend runs.

Dr West added: ‘It is well recognised that improving venous blood flow improves exercise ability in perfectly healthy people.

‘This is even more important in those who have an abnormality – which usually manifests itself as varicose veins – and treating the cause of that with EVLA dramatically improves exercise tolerance and ability.

‘This is why sportspeople especially triathletes regularly use compression tights to help venous blood return and general leg blood circulation.’

The best ways to reduce the pain caused by varicose veins if you already have them are to avoid standing up for long periods of time, elevate your legs for 15 minutes each evening, wear flat shoes, wear pressure stockings and to keep your legs cool by wearing loose, light clothing.

Varicose vein myths debunked

MYTH: Varicose veins are just a cosmetic issue

Most people with varicose veins get significant symptoms, says Dr West.

Legs commonly ache, feel tired and heavy and can itch or twitch at night. In fact, left untreated, varicose veins can actually cause serious problems such as severe leg pain, swelling, skin damage and ulcers.

New research also suggests people with varicose veins are at an increased risk of developing blood clots.

MYTH: They are caused by crossing your legs or doing a job that involves standing up all day

There really is no lifestyle act that causes veins – they are genetic. If your mum or dad had them there’s a good chance you will, too, regardless of how you live your life.

However, once you do have them, standing for long periods can make symptoms worse and accelerate the deterioration of your veins.

MYTH: Women are affected more than men

Men are just as likely to be affected, but women seek treatment more often because they tend to show off their legs more. Men are more likely to only get help when the symptoms become unbearable.

MYTH: They only affect older people

Most patients say they’ve had have had varicose veins since their 20s or 30s. However, they often don’t seek treatment until later in life when they can more easily afford it or have just become more fed up with how their legs look.

MYTH: It’s pointless treating them because they just come back

Traditionally, veins were stripped out surgically and this had a very high recurrence rate – up to 70 per cent of cases – sometimes within just a year.

EVLA has a far lower recurrence rate, you can get back to normal life almost straight away, and only need to wear compression stockings for a week.

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