independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

'My legs would be sore and swollen after work'

New procedure to treat varicose veins gave mum Bernie a new lease of life, writes Áilín Quinlan

Bernie McGuigan had suffered with varicose veins since her twenties. Photo by Martin Maher

Since her twenties, Bernadette McGuigan was regularly experiencing pain and extreme tiredness in her legs.

A vein in her left leg, she recalls, always seemed to be bulging above the knee, particularly after a long work shift. "I'm a paediatric nurse and we do 12-and-a-half hour shifts and we're on our feet a lot of the time," says Bernie, who lives in Malahide, Dublin, and works in the busy neurosurgical unit of a large city hospital.

Whenever she'd spent a lot of time on her feet, she recalls, her legs would feel heavy and swollen, and after a shift she'd have to put them up and rest them.

Bernadette also noticed that she couldn't sit in a car for more than about two hours without having to stop and move, or shake out, her legs.

"If I'd been standing at a football match or at a concert, for a prolonged period of time, I found that I'd get an ache down my calf and my ankle," she says.

"It would stop when I rested my legs but it would be replaced by a tingly, restless feeling, almost like an itch or an ache, and the ankle would be swollen."

In fact, she says, her ankle would hold the indentation of the socks or even her boot or shoe – "you'd see the marks," she explains, adding that she started noticing this 10 or 15 years ago.

During her first pregnancy, about five years ago, the pain and swelling in her legs was quite bad, and, although it eased after she had given birth, things got so bad during the second pregnancy two years later, that she had to wear support stockings:

"I was suffering a lot and in pain, and there was swelling and restlessness in my legs and the veins were also a lot more visible."

Bernie wasn't able to wear skirts and shorts in good weather as she didn't want to show her legs.

Last October Bernie, now aged 40, finally took action.

"I saw my consultant and was referred for an ultrasound of both legs," she says.

Her surgeon confirmed that she was a candidate for surgery and explained about a new procedure, Venefit, which uses ultrasound to close off the affected veins and enables patients to get back on their feet sooner than is allowed by the traditional treatment.

Her surgery took place in January last – it was a day-surgery procedure, she recalls.

"I was home two-and-a-half hours after leaving theatre. I went into hospital at 11am, was brought to theatre at 4pm and was home just before 8pm that night!"

She had to rest for 48 hours after the surgery with her leg elevated – the only walking allowed was to the loo.

"On day three however, I started a gentle 30-minute daily walk and kept that up."

Bernie was aware that the old procedure, which involved stripping of the veins, was a painful treatment but, she discovered, Venefit was not – although she had been given a prescription for pain killers, all she needed was a few Panadol the next day, she recalls.

"I took two weeks off work to recuperate from the procedure because in my job you're on your feet so much that I was advised to rest."

Following the operation, she wore a TEDs stocking, a type of compression stocking, which covered the full leg.

She wore this continually until her return to the consultant two weeks following the operation.

"The day surgery was covered by my insurance and it was really not a big thing.

"There was some bruising, but it went away after a couple of weeks. Since the procedure was done, the vein is gone. There is no bulging and no pain."

Bernie will be returning to have the procedure carried out on her right leg at the beginning of March

"The vein on the right leg was not as big or as bulging as the one on my left, but I do experience a lot of pain in that leg when I have spent a lot of time on my feet.

"I've found over the years that the pain in the right leg is more severe than that in the left, even though the vein in the left leg was far more visible."

 

What are Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins are enlarged veins that can be blue, red or flesh coloured. They are often raised above the skin on legs and look like twisted bulging cords.

Varicose veins occur when the valves in the veins that carry blood from the legs toward the heart no longer function, causing blood to pool in the legs.

What causes them?

Heredity is a major element in the development of varicose veins and thread veins – up to one-fifth of adults have varicose veins and experience discomfort as a result. Many people know of other family members with the same problem.

Other factors are believed to include lifestyle – prolonged standing in careers such as nursing, sales, teaching, waitressing and flight attendants – and diet.

It's believed that a diet high in fat and refined sugar and low in fibre may be a contributory factor to development of the condition.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include feelings of fatigue, heaviness, aching, burning, throbbing, itching and cramps in the legs.

These signs are often accompanied by a swelling of the ankle, which frequently appears after long hours of standing.

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