Around three in ten adults in the UK have varicose veins. These occur when the valves inside the veins of the legs stop working properly, causing blood to flow back down.
‘Over time, this enlarges the veins,’ explains Gary Maytham, a consultant vascular surgeon at St George’s Hospital, London and Spire Gatwick Park Hospital in Surrey.
Left untreated, varicose veins can bleed when knocked and lead to leg ulcers.
Treatment involves surgery to close the veins — ‘burning’ the inside of the vein so it collapses in on itself and closes. But NHS criteria, which vary regionally, are strict, and only a small percentage of people with varicose veins qualify for surgery.
There are treatments you can use at home — but are they any good? We asked Mr Maytham and Professor Stephen Black, lead clinician at the UK Vein Clinic in Harley Street, London, to review a selection. We then rated them.
Around three in ten adults in the UK have varicose veins. These occur when the valves inside the veins of the legs stop working properly, causing blood to flow back down (File image)
Blue light skin therapy pen, £14.95, ozerty.com
CLAIM: Hold the tip of this battery-operated device against the area affected by spider or varicose veins for up to two minutes, two or three times a day.
It emits painless blue light which the maker says can ‘penetrate deep into your skin, stimulating collagen production and accelerating blood circulation’, helping varicose veins ‘fade away’.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Spider [or thread] veins are small blue or red clusters of veins on the legs and face,’ says Mr Maytham, ‘which can occur on their own or alongside larger varicose veins, but they are a cosmetic issue rather than a health problem.
‘They’re usually treated by micro-sclerotherapy — injecting a chemical into the veins, causing them to collapse.
‘Laser or pulsed light therapy can also be used. The very high-energy light damages the walls of the spider veins, causing them to disappear in time.
‘The suggestion seems to be that this pen can achieve the same effect, but blue light is not used in medical clinics. It’s likely to be a waste of money.’
‘Blue light is not used in medical clinics. It’s likely to be a waste of money.’ Pictured: Blue light skin therapy pen, £14.95, ozerty.com
Putnams memory foam leg rest, £68.30, backcareonline.co.uk
CLAIM: This wedge-style pillow, made from memory foam, keeps both legs raised when you lie in bed.
Its maker says it is contoured ‘to follow the shape of your legs, giving maximum support, reducing pressure’ and providing ‘relief from varicose veins’.
The website says it is ‘recommended by the NHS’.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘A common symptom of varicose veins is swelling in the legs and ankles (oedema),’ says Mr Maytham.
‘A wedge like this can help as it raises the legs above the level of the heart, using gravity to encourage fluid to drain out of the legs via the lymphatic system, rather than building up in the soft tissues, causing swelling.
‘This wedge would be more supportive than pillows. Although that won’t tackle the underlying causes of varicose veins, I suggest this type of leg-raisers to patients to reduce swelling.’
‘This wedge-style pillow, made from memory foam, keeps both legs raised when you lie in bed.’ Pictured: Putnams memory foam leg rest, £68.30, backcareonline.co.uk
VR Original Superfit, £27.99, vitalactive.com
CLAIM: These knee-length nylon compression socks are ‘designed to control the development of the condition and ease the discomfort caused by dysfunctional valves in the veins’, says the manufacturer. These socks have a compression level of 16 to 18mmHg.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Compression socks are good for swelling, but only if they are tight enough to squeeze fluid in the tissues back into circulation around the body,’ says Professor Black, who normally recommends a European class-two medical stocking or sock with a compression of 30 to 40mmHg for varicose veins.
‘But this pair is only about half that, so they’re just like a tight pair of socks, which won’t do much good to help your varicose veins.’
‘Compression socks are good for swelling, but only if they are tight enough to squeeze fluid in the tissues back into circulation around the body.’ Pictured: VR Original Superfit, £27.99, vitalactive.com
Vapatch herbal varicose veins soothing patch, pack of 40, £17.95, bellagadgets.co.uk
CLAIM: The site selling these stick-on patches claims they’re an ‘effective and safe treatment for varicose veins’.
They contain ingredients including lotus leaves and cassia that will ‘soothe and relieve the inflammation and pain of swollen veins’, restoring skin ‘to a healthy condition in two months’.
Apply a patch over varicose veins two or three times a day, then massage to increase circulation.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘I’m not familiar enough with the ingredients to know if they have any anti-inflammatory effect, which would be the only possible benefit,’ says Mr Maytham.
‘Massage may reduce discomfort, but these patches will have no effect on the underlying issues which cause varicose veins.’
‘Massage may reduce discomfort, but these patches will have no effect on the underlying issues which cause varicose veins.’ Pictured: Vapatch herbal varicose veins soothing patch, pack of 40, £17.95, bellagadgets.co.uk
A. Vogel Venagel, 100g, £9.98, bodykind.com
CLAIM: This gel contains extract of horse chestnut seeds, ‘commonly associated with treatment of varicose veins’, according to its maker, which claims it offers ‘cooling relief to legs that feel weary, heavy and uncomfortable’. Massage into affected areas two or three times daily.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘There’s some weak data from existing studies that says horse chestnut seed extract will make a slight difference as the active ingredient, aescin, seems to improve swelling and venous tone [how well the blood is distributed] and function,’ says Professor Black.
‘But this evidence isn’t very robust and [the gel] would need to be used every day for a sustained period as the effects stop when you stop using the product.
‘This won’t help severe varicose veins, although used for massage in the area it may improve symptoms such as swelling.’
‘This won’t help severe varicose veins, although used for massage in the area it may improve symptoms such as swelling.’ Pictured: A. Vogel Venagel, 100g, £9.98, bodykind.com
Venalex capsules, pack of 60, £13.35, amazon.co.uk
CLAIM: These supplements contain diosmin and hesperidin (from citrus fruit). The maker claims they can help circulation problems, including varicose veins and haemorrhoids. Take two a day.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Diosmin and hesperidin are flavonoids [plant-based chemicals] which can reduce swelling and have an antioxidant effect which may help with vascular health,’ says Professor Black.
Numerous studies have shown they help improve vein tone and function, including one, published in the International Angiology journal in 2018, which showed that taking a medicine containing these two ingredients improved nine leg symptoms associated with chronic vein-related disease.
‘Their effect is quite subtle and you’d need to take them every day — once you stop, so does the effect,’ says Professor Black.
‘I recommend that my patients take capsules containing these ingredients, but warn they can sometimes cause tummy upset. They won’t deal with the cause of varicose veins, but may ease symptoms.’
‘I recommend that my patients take capsules containing these ingredients, but warn they can sometimes cause tummy upset.’ Pictured: Venalex capsules, pack of 60, £13.35, amazon.co.uk
OrthoSole Max Cushion Insole, £45, orthosole.com
CLAIM: These insoles can help with poor circulation caused by ‘disrupted blood flow’ due to varicose veins.
Regular use is said to ‘help to combat bad circulation in the feet’.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘An insole such as this could help to ease symptoms including aching, heavy or painful legs, but they won’t fix the broken valves in the veins,’ says Professor Black.
He adds that wearing supportive footwear can help vein health in the lower leg by extending the toes to their maximum, thereby helping to engage calf muscles and help pump the blood back towards the heart.
‘A pair of these inserts won’t do you any harm but they also may not make any difference to varicose veins.’
‘A pair of these inserts won’t do you any harm but they also may not make any difference to varicose veins.’ Pictured: OrthoSole Max Cushion Insole, £45, orthosole.com
Varesil varicose veins cream, 100ml, £25.99, stressnomore.co.uk
CLAIM: Rub this cream, containing natural ingredients, into skin in affected areas to reduce the swelling, itching and discomfort caused by varicose veins.
It contains grapeseed oil, an anti-inflammatory, and soothing aloe vera.
The maker says the cream ‘is absorbed deep into the skin’, repairing and strengthening varicose vein walls. It’s claimed this shrinks them because the ingredients ‘regenerate damaged tissue’.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Varicose veins can often lead to eczema because they cause the skin to become inflamed,’ says Mr Maytham.
‘Anti-inflammatory creams can help ease this, but specialist eczema creams are likely to be more effective.
‘Varesil cream may offer patients some short-term relief, but it will have no effect on the underlying causes of varicose veins.’
‘Varesil cream may offer patients some short-term relief, but it will have no effect on the underlying causes of varicose vein.’ Pictured: Varesil varicose veins cream, 100ml, £25.99, stressnomore.co.uk