Pauline McCarthy had given up on wearing skirts. But a new procedure to remove varicose veins has transformed her life, says Áilín Quinlan.
LAST summer was the best in years — but for shop assistant Pauline McCarthy, there was no prospect of wearing bright, seasonal shorts and dresses. She simply didn’t feel comfortable showing her legs.
“They looked like they belonged to an 80-year-old,” she recalls.
The reason? Varicose veins, which had first manifested in her legs as far back in 2010-2011 and were becoming steadily more visible.
By May 2012, recalls the 50-year-old Donoughmore, Co Cork native, the veins in her right leg were becoming very visible particularly behind the knee and down the calf — and by last summer she knew she had to do something.
“They were very ugly — they were really standing out to the extent that I couldn’t wear a skirt because they were so severe and unattractive. I got very conscious of them. ”
Varicose veins are in the family; her mother and father had them and one of her sisters had them removed at the age of 21 and has since had to get them removed a second time.
“There are six children in our family and I think that only one didn’t have this problem — five of us have had some problem with varicose veins and two of us have had to have an operation.”
By last summer the veins had become so prominent that Pauline sought medical advice and was referred to a consultant.
“The veins were protruding. I was becoming afraid that I might hit my leg and injure them and they were very severe. My right leg was particularly bad but they were also in my left leg but not as severe.”
Last November she had a new procedure carried out on her right leg at Cork’s Mercy Hospital. It was done on an outpatient basis.
Pauline was lucky — the new Venefit procedure is significantly less painful than the traditional method of ‘stripping’ the vein from the thigh.
Explains Gavin O’Brien, consultant general and vascular surgeon: “Traditional surgery for varicose veins involves making an incision (a cut) in the groin, then stitching the vein shut in the groin and physically removing or ‘stripping’ the vein from the thigh. This can cause significant pain and bruising.
“Thankfully, newer methods are now available which allow vascular surgeons to perform endovenous (keyhole) surgery which avoids the need for a cut in the groin and avoids the ‘stripping’ of the vein from the leg.”
This involves the insertion of a tiny catheter or wire into the vein under ultrasound guidance, via a small incision at the knee.
“The vein is then sealed shut by delivering thermal energy. Once the diseased vein is sealed, blood flow returns to the heart via other healthy veins,” he explains.
These new endovenous (keyhole) methods result in far less pain and bruising, can be performed as a day-case — and allows people return to work much sooner than traditional surgery.
“In some cases it can be performed under local anaesthetic. Patients typically resume normal activities within a day. Feedback from patients who have had this form of surgery has been very positive,” he adds.
Pauline was delighted with the results — she was out of bed and walking around as normal the next morning, wearing a special stocking, which she wore for a number of weeks.
Last January the treatment was carried out on her other leg.
“I love walking. I’m also on my feet all day so it’s very important that I got the problem sorted.”
Pauline was back at work within six weeks of the first operation, and four weeks after the second.
Both operations were covered by her health insurance.
“I never had much pain but it was the way the veins looked that worried me — I was afraid that I would hit them against something or injure them in some way.
“ Now I don’t even think about my legs. They’re not an issue any more and it’s a big weight off my mind.”
A painful problem
Varicose veins affect about a quarter of the adult population both females and males.
They are enlarged, twisted, bulging veins which become visible and palpable under the skin of the legs as blue or red cords.
Varicose veins are the result of faulty vein valves which cause reflux (blood flowing the wrong way), through the veins.
Heredity is a major cause but lifestyle factors like prolonged standing and poor diet may also contribute. Pregnancy, in particular, can cause or exacerbate varicose veins.
Varicose veins can cause a range of symptoms such as pain, aching, itching, heavy legs and swelling. If untreated, varicose veins can result in skin damage (such as eczema and brown skin discolouration), bleeding, phlebitis (inflammation of the veins) and ultimately breakdown of the skin (ulcers).
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