The history of varicose veins

Varicose veins have been an issue for thousands of years

During the pandemic, South Africans have had to adjust to not being able to buy alcohol and cigarettes as freely as they used to be able to – and sometimes not at all. While there has been a lot of griping on social media about this, many people have found that this is the excuse they needed to cut back on their drinking and quit smoking for good. One benefit of this decreased consumption could be improved vein health, so in this blog we’re taking a look at the links between alcohol, cigarettes and varicose veins.

An ancient problem

The earliest known mention of varicose veins comes from a papyrus scroll which has survived some 3 500 years. The translated hieroglyphics describe varicose veins as ‘tortuous and solid, with many knots’ and refers to their swollen appearance. This is a description which might be familiar to varicose vein sufferers today. The earliest doctors lacked the knowledge or specialist equipment to do anything about varicose veins, so patients had to live with them. The first illustration we have of varicose veins comes from the Acropolis in Athens, and is relatively recent at just 2 400 years old. This tablet – believed to have been created as an offering to the gods by someone seeking divine help – suggests that at this stage in history, treatments were still not widely available. However, this was the era of Hippocrates, known as the ‘father of modern medicine’ and the source of the oath that all doctors take to this day. He was aware of the link between varicose veins and leg ulcers, and this led him to investigate possible treatments. Despite this, the options for varicose vein patients in Ancient Greece were hardly appealing, as they mostly consisted of piercing the veins or applying heat. Compression bandages were also in use by this stage, which would have been an effective way to relieve the pain and discomfort of varicose veins. It’s likely that the cure was often worse than the original condition in many cases.

A medical genius

The invention of forceps made vein ligation or removal possible, but it took the intervention of a true genius to shed light on how the venous system works. Despite dissection of humans being frowned upon by the authorities, Leonardo da Vinci was able to create exquisitely accurate drawings of the veins in the lower leg. Th increase in medical knowledge during the Renaissance led eventually to the development of modern surgical equipment, including syringes. Whereas ancient treatments were either painful, unhelpful, or both, more effective approaches could now be developed.

Less pain, more gain

Throughout the 20th Century, varicose vein interventions improved dramatically. A series of discoveries led to the ability to assess veins using ultrasound, while radiofrequency ablation built on the previous realisation that substances could be introduced into a varicose vein to seal it. More recent developments have focused on making treatment options less invasive, so that patients no longer require a full anaesthetic, and can resume normal activities much sooner. If you have varicose veins in 2021, you’re in a much better position than patients in the past, with a variety of options available that offer minimal discomfort and much shorter recovery times. Rather than endure the pain and discomfort of varicose veins, contact Dr Francois Steyn on 012 993 4161 or 012 993 0911, or at to arrange a consultation and learn more about the latest, most up to date treatment methods for varicose veins and spider veins, some of which can be carried out during your lunch break.