Diagnosing varicose veins

If you have varicose veins (or suspect that you do) but they are not causing you any problems then you do not need to see your GP. This is acceptable as long as you are not experiencing any pain or other symptoms.

But if they are causing you a problem then a diagnosis needs to be made followed by a suitable course of treatment. 

Your GP can make a diagnosis simply by looking at your legs. Varicose veins are very easy to see and this combined with a discussion about your lifestyle and medical history will aid with the diagnosis.

What your GP will do is to ask you about the severity and frequency of your symptoms: when are your varicose veins most likely to hurt and how often?

He/she may also ask:

  • Do varicose veins run in your family?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • What is your current weight?
  • Have you ever suffered a leg injury?
  • Have you experienced deep vein thrombosis?
  • Have you suffered from problems with your veins before?

Your GP will examine you: he/she may refer you for tests if you have a severe form of varicose veins or are at risk of complications. These tests may be carried out by a vascular specialist.

Tests for diagnosing varicose veins

There are two tests for detecting varicose veins which are:

  • Colour duplex ultrasound scan
  • Doppler test

Colour duplex ultrasound scan

This is a non-invasive procedure which is similar to that used for ante-natal check ups.

An ultrasound probe is moved across the surface of your legs to obtain a colour image of your veins and blood supply. As the probe is placed on your skin it enables a series of images to be transmitted to a colour monitor where they are clearly visible to the specialist.

These images show the normal function of your veins and any abnormality such as a varicose vein. This procedure also enables the specialist to measure how quickly blood flows through your veins and in what direction.

Any problems will be highlighted and then used to devise a treatment plan.

Doppler test

The "doppler effect" is based upon changes in frequency in sound waves and that is what this procedure uses. It is a simpler type of test compared to the ultrasound scan and uses sound waves to check the rate and direction of blood flow in your veins.

It can detect any blockages, clots or other obstructions and gives an idea of how well (or not) your veins are working.

Other tests

There is a test called the "Trendelenburg Test" in which the patient is required to lie down and lift one leg into the air. As he/she does so the GP will grip the leg with the intention of preventing blood flow through the veins.

This is a temporary state and only performed for a short space of time.

The patient is asked to stand up and as he/she does so the GP will check to see how quickly the blood supply returns to these veins. In a normal situation this blood flow will take place quickly and easily: but if it takes a long time to refill then it may mean a faulty valve or weakened vein.

Guide to Varicose Veins

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