A woman with varicose veins so painful she broke down and cried to her GP for treatment was told only to come back when they had caused open sores.
Shannon Hutchinson, 30, from Telford, Shropshire, was unable to walk upstairs due to being in agony from the common condition.
The mother-of-two gained weight because walking was so uncomfortable and she became anxious that people thought she was exaggerating her pain.
She was denied treatment on the NHS, despite asking her doctor more than 12 times over a two-year period.
Instead she was given stockings to wear ‘which did nothing’ and claims she was told to come back if she lost feeling in her feet.
In the end Mrs Hutchinson had ‘life-changing’ private treatment at the Veincentre’s London clinic, which cost nearly £2,600, and has since lost two stone.
Shannon Hutchinson had varicose veins so painful she broke down and cried to her GP for treatment – but claims she was told only to come back when they had developed into open sores. Pictured after treatment she paid for privately
Mrs Hutchinson, 30, from Telford, Shropshire, was unable to walk upstairs due to being in agony. Her veins pictured before (left) and after treatment (centre and right)
Mrs Hutchinson’s varicose veins started as a small lump in her left leg in 2012. By 2015 they had grown bigger and had become aching and itchy. Pictured before treatment
It comes at a time that the NHS is cutting the number of varicose vein patients referred for surgery.
Mrs Hutchinson, who is a qualified hairdresser but now a stay-at-home mother, first developed a small lump in her left leg in 2012 following the birth of her first son, who’s now six.
But her GP at Donnington Medical Practice, Shropshire, told her it was ‘just a lump’ and to ignore it.
In 2015, after the birth of her second son, who’s now three, Mrs Hutchinson noticed the vein had grown bigger and another had appeared on her right leg.
She began experiencing symptoms such as aching, burning and itchy, and her legs would swell in the warm weather.
The veins on both legs continued to grow, and on her left they reached round the back to her ankle.
Mrs Hutchinson, who always enjoyed being active and loved taking her young children for walks, said the pain began to restrict her lifestyle.
She said: ‘By 2017 my left leg was especially painful. I’ve always loved running and as a family we’ve enjoyed going on long walks.
‘But my symptoms were getting so severe, by the end of each day I was limping and struggling to walk down the stairs.
‘I couldn’t even get down on the floor to play with my children.’
She also stopped wearing dresses and shorts because she didn’t like the way her legs looked – and her veins were so big, they would protrude through her jeans.
Mrs Hutchinson, a qualified hairdresser who is now a stay-at-home mother, stopped wearing dresses and shorts because she didn’t like the way her legs looked
The mother-of-two gained weight because walking was so uncomfortable and unable to move from the sofa. Pictured at Christmas wearing a dress for the first time in years after having treatment in the autumn
Mrs Hutchinson said the ‘breaking point’ came in summer 2018 when she and her husband Adam took their children to a safari park.
Halfway through the family day out, Mrs Hutchinson had to sit down on a bench because her legs were so painful – leaving Mr Hutchinson to take the kids round the park.
She said: ‘Missing out like that was the final straw. I had to do something about it.
‘I must have gone to the GP a dozen times, telling them how much it was affecting my life.
‘It wasn’t so much the cosmetic side than the symptoms. They were just making my life a misery, and my husband told me how much he hated seeing me in pain.
‘I even broke down and cried on one visit to the GP. It felt like I was constantly being fobbed off by the doctors, who said they would only do something if I lost the feeling in my feet or if my veins deteriorated into sores.
‘Instead they just offered me stockings, which did nothing.’
Mrs Hutchinson said her painful varicose veins also affected her mental health. She was used to being active, but went through a ‘low period’ because her movement was restricted due to being in agony.
Often she would be forced to spend all day sitting it on the sofa because she was in so much pain, and that led to her gaining weight.
She said: ‘It really got me down and often cried to my husband because I was struggling and felt anxious because people just didn’t understand.
‘The doctors made me feel like I was overreacting, which I then thought everyone else thought, and that left me terribly anxious.
‘My doctor told me the only way I would get them sorted was going privately.’
Mrs Hutchinson said her varicose veins were ‘making her life a misery’ and her husband, Adam, struggled to see her in pain. Pictured, the couple together
The tipping point came in the summer of 2018 when Mrs Hutchinson was unable to spend quality time with her children. Halfway through a family day out to a safari park (pictured), Mrs Hutchinson had to sit down on a bench because her legs were so painful – leaving Mr Hutchinson to take the children round the park
WHAT ARE VARICOSE VEINS?
Varicose veins are gnarled, enlarged veins, which typically affect the legs and feet.
For many these are just unsightly, but some may experience pain and discomfort.
Varicose veins could also raise the risk of circulation problems.
Other symptoms may include:
- Throbbing, cramping and swelling in the lower legs
- Worsened pain after sitting or standing
- Itching around veins
- Colour changes, hardening or inflammation around the affected skin
Varicose veins are more likely to affect the elderly as age causes skin to lose elasticity and valves in veins to weaken.
They are also linked to pregnancy as gestation causes the volume of blood in the body to increase but reduces the flow from the legs to the pelvis.
Obesity and a family history of the condition also increases the risk.
Varicose vein complications can include:
- Blood clots
People can reduce their risk of varicose veins by exercising, eating a healthy diet, avoiding high heels, elevating the legs and changing their sitting or standing position regularly.
Treatment can include compression socks or laser surgery.
Varicose veins are a common condition, affecting up to three in 10 adults.
Mrs Hutchinson opted for treatment at the Veincentre’s London clinic.
She underwent endovenous laser ablation, which is carried out with local anaesthetic and involves inserting a laser into the vein through a needle and burning the faulty vein, to both of her legs.
She also required foam sclerotherapy injections, where medication in the form of foam is injected into the affected vein to shrink it.
At her follow-up appointment, Mrs Hutchinson also needed a non-invasive duplex ultrasound scan, a further session of foam injections and microsclerotherapy – injections of a liquid called Sclerovein, which destroys the veins.
The total cost of her treatment was £2,595, and Mrs Hutchinson said she ‘cried with relief’ after having it done, calling it ‘life changing’.
She wore a stocking for a week and when she removed it she could ‘see straight away the veins were no longer protruding’.
Mrs Hutchinson said: ‘Within two weeks all the pain had vanished and within six weeks I was walking long distances again.
‘After my treatment I gained new confidence not just to go out bare legged but confidence in myself.
‘My anxiety reduced and I finally had the confidence to get back into the world, which is when the workouts and outdoor activity started again.
‘Now everything is different. At Christmas I wore a dress for the first time in years.
‘There are no scars on my legs, and I can run and climb with the kids, and I have started to work out, losing more than two stone since my last treatment in the autumn.
‘It’s had a huge knock on effect for my family life, and my husband is so happy for me.’
Mrs Hutchinson underwent endovenous laser ablation and sclerotherapy privately to treat her varicose veins. Pictured, her legs after treatment
Mrs Hutchinson has been able to exercise again since her treatment, losing two stone since the autumn. Pictured, before her veins became bad and she was active
Mrs Hutchinson, pictured with her children, said: ‘The doctors made me feel like I was overreacting, which I then thought everyone else thought, and that left me terribly anxious.’ Her anxiety has now reduced
Dr David West, founder of the Veincentre, said the guidance from NHS England and NICE regarding referring patients for varicose veins treatment ‘contradicted’ one another.
It comes at a time that the government is reducing the number of people undergoing surgery for varicose vein surgery from 28,000 a year to 20,000, he said.
Dr West added that because the condition is so common, if everyone with a varicose vein demanded ‘expensive NHS treatment, it would overload the system’.
He said: ‘You can quite easily see why NHS England takes this stance because there’s only a limited amount of staff and money available.
‘Another problem is that varicose veins are unlike most medical problems as they are mostly both a cosmetic problems and can cause symptoms and could ultimately cause a significant threat to health if the skin breaks down.’
He added: ‘The numbers of patients referred for NHS treatment is reducing. At the same time the numbers of patients suffering with the problems are increasing.’
Christine Morris, executive lead for quality, nursing and safety for Telford and Wrekin Clinical Commissioning Group, said: ‘We are unable to comment on individual patient cases.
‘However, we would like to reassure patients that it is the priority of the CCG and its GP member practices to ensure every patient receives a level of NHS care and treatment that is clinically appropriate for their needs.’
WHAT TREATMENT OPTIONS ARE THERE FOR VARICOSE VEINS?
Treatment of varicose veins is usually necessary to ease symptoms if varicose veins are causing pain or discomfort.
It may be done to treat complications – such as leg ulcers, swelling or skin discolouration. Treatment for cosmetic reasons is rarely available on the NHS.
If treatment is necessary, the doctor may first recommend up to 6 months of self care at home, involving compression stockings, regular exercise, avoiding standing up and elevating the affected area when resting.
This involves using energy either from high-frequency radio waves (radiofrequency ablation) or lasers (endovenous laser treatment) to heat the vein until the walls collapse. This closes and seals the vein so that blood will naturally be redirected to one of healthy veins.
Both treatments involve accessing the vein through a small cut made just above or below the knee. A narrow tube called a catheter is guided into the vein using an ultrasound scan.
Ultrasound-guided foam sclerotherapy
This treatment involves injecting special foam into your veins. The foam scars the veins, which seals them closed.
After sclerotherapy, your varicose veins should begin to fade after a few weeks as stronger veins take over the role of the damaged vein, which is no longer filled with blood.
Although sclerotherapy has proven to be effective, it’s not yet known how effective foam sclerotherapy is in the long term. NICE found, on average, the treatment was effective in 84 out of 100 cases.
But in one study, the varicose veins returned in more than half of those treated.
Sclerotherapy can also cause side effects, including blood clots in other leg veins, headaches, lower back pain and vision problems.
A surgical procedure called ligation and stripping to remove the affected veins involves tying off the vein in the affected leg and then removing it.
Ligation and stripping can cause pain, bruising and bleeding. More serious complications are rare, but could include nerve damage or deep vein thrombosis.