Varicose veins: Working from home increases risk of pulmonary embolism
Professor Mark Whiteley, the founder of the Whiteley Clinic, is one of the country’s leading venous surgeons and a pioneer of a life-changing surgery for people with varicose veins.
He warned that the lack of movement due to working from home “can kill” people with varicose veins – a condition roughly one in three of us have – due to the increased risk of deadly blood clots.
The surgeon described how if you have varicose veins and do less movement, mini blood clots in your veins, known as thrombophlebitis, are more likely to occur.
These blood clots can quickly become deadly if they spread to one of your lung’s veins, according to Whiteley.
He said: “Whether you get complications through varicose veins…depends on how much exercise you do.
“You can see then that anyone who is sort of getting up, walking into the kitchen, going to their office and doesn’t put somewhere in their day a long walk or going to the gym, they’re basically pushing themselves towards, not only putting on weight, heart disease and everything else.
“But on the venus side, pushing themselves towards thrombophlebitis [venous blood clots] and also leg ulcers, skin damage, swollen ankles, all the other things that go along with venous reflux [varicose veins].”
Varicose veins are a very common condition, affecting up to three in 10 adults in the UK–although a lot of people might not know they have it.
They are swollen and enlarged veins on the legs and feet, that may look lumpy and bulging in appearance.
Almost half the people with varicose veins have a “hidden” version of the condition, according to Professor Whiteley.
People with varicose veins are already more likely to suffer from small blood clots because the blood flow through them is restricted due to weakened venous valves.
These valves, when healthy, keep blood moving forwards.
When you don’t exercise and stay in your seat all day, this further restricts the blood flow in your varicose veins as there are fewer muscle contractions to help speed up the blood and make it circulate better.
Together, lack of exercise and varicose veins, make it much more likely that you’ll develop blood clots, according to Whiteley.
What makes a varicose vein blood clot deadly?
The risk of the blood clots spreading to your lungs increases the closer to your deep veins the clot is.
This, Whiteley pointed out, is why people “worry” about deep vein thrombosis–a blood clot in your deep veins.
He said: “This is what kills.
“When you hear about deep vein thrombosis. The reason people worry about it is not the deep vein thrombosis, it is the clots flying off to your lungs, and that’s called a pulmonary embolism.”
However, most varicose veins are near the surface of your skin rather than deep in your muscles.
Despite this, Whiteley explained that in some cases blood clots in the varicose veins (phlebitis) can form close to the deep veins where they still have a risk of spreading to the lungs.
According to a study from 2012, these clots occurring close to the deep veins have a one percent chance of spreading to the lungs.
‘Varicose veins aren’t just cosmetic’
He warned that many people think varicose veins are only cosmetic–and that this lack of understanding is resulting in people going untreated and developing blood clots in their lungs.
He said: “People still have this idea that ‘oh varicose veins are cosmetic’ and thrombophlebitis is only cosmetic…
“There are people getting pulmonary embolism, a clot in their lungs, from this route.”
Whiteley offered some wise words for anyone who is working from home, especially if they have varicose veins.
He said: “What will be very sensible in the morning is to go for a walk around the block.
“And go for a walk after work. so basically do the sort of exercise you would have done if you were commuting.
“Walking for veins is a fantastic exercise
“And then what I recommend is every hour during your work, make sure you actually get up and either go for a walk.
“You may be able to go up some stairs or do some exercises standing at your desk… go up onto your toes 30 times or you can sort of do some squats thirty times or preferably do both.
“Just get the blood circulating, get the venous pump working.”
The main symptom of phlebitis – blood clot in your varicose veins – is a lumpy, painful red vein in your leg.
If you have this symptom you must be sent to a vein expert because if that clot is close to your deep system, you must have anticoagulation to stop your clot from worsening.
lumpy red Vein that is painful in your leg