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Why You Should Think About Varicose Veins Before Getting A Tattoo

Varicose veins might not be the first condition that springs to mind at a young age but, in truth, the symptoms can start far earlier than you might think. Even if your parents have suffered from varicose veins before, they may not recognize the same symptoms in your legs that they have previously experienced purely because most think that varicose veins only make an appearance in later life.

However, research suggests that around 10% of girls aged 18 already suffer from venous reflux, or hidden varicose veins, but as more significant and visible varicose veins can take years to develop you might not notice these for a few decades!

Tattoos are probably more popular today than they’ve ever been before, as a fashion statement as well as a dedication to friends, family or important milestones. But it is also vital to appreciate the science behind getting a tattoo. As your body sheds skin throughout your life, the ink has to reach the dermis in order for the tattoo to become permanent, the tissue just beneath the epidermis, or the outer layer of your skin. This clearly requires your skin to be pierced repeatedly, with some modern tattoo machines able to do this up to 3,000 times per minute! However, the dermis is composed of a huge range of nerves, glands, fibers and blood vessels which play a vital role in helping to make your tattoo permanent, but also could potentially pose a health risk.

During the tattooing process, the body’s immune system sends macrophages, a white blood cell, to the area. These cells consume the ink particles before returning to the liver so the waste products can be excreted, however, some macrophages may stay in the tattooed area and when the cells die, the ink particles they consumed remain as bright and colourful as before.

But is there a risk to the blood vessels underneath a tattoo? Eddie Chaloner, a top vein surgeon in London, explains that patients suffering from varicose veins are at increased risk of adverse side effects occurring such as ruptured veins or excessive bleeding and bruising.

Other risks can include:

  • Damaging veins – Although it has been claimed that tattoo needles do not puncture the skin deeply enough to cause damage to varicose veins, this is not always the case
  • Injecting ink into the veins – Piercing the skin in an area over varicose veins increases the chances of accidently injecting the ink into the vein rather than the dermis. This can cause further damage the veins as well as cause infection and is likely to distort the image of the tattoo as the ink may travel through the veins rather than staying in place under the skin
  • Difficulties in later life – It might be tempting to attempt to cover varicose veins with a tattoo but leaving these conditions untreated is likely worsen the problem and may even lead to other health complications such as skin ulcers and hemorrhaging. Covering conditions such as varicose veins with a tattoo can make later treatment more complicated

Of course, you may develop varicose veins in later life after you have already received a tattoo. If this is the case, there is no cause for panic as treatment is still available afterwards. The exact option to treat your condition is dependent upon several factors including the position of the tattoo in relation to the problematic veins and how severe the varicose veins have become.

There are several methods available to alleviate and treat the symptoms of varicose veins, from the basic steps to manage the condition such as wearing compression socks and increasing exercise to minimally invasive procedures that you can discuss with a vein specialist.

Heat-based techniques including Endovenous Laser ablation and Radiofrequency ablation are well-established and the most commonly used surgeries in the UK and USA. Heat energy is used to seal the veins, redirecting blood flow via the healthy veins. This allows the damaged veins to recover over a period of time. Endovenous Laser ablation is the most effective option when treating varicose veins around a tattooed area but both techniques have very high success rates with a much lower risk of major complications and other side effects when compared to other surgeries.

Other popular treatments include Clarivein, a painless process best suited to smaller veins, and foam sclerotherapy where a chemical is injected to block the leaky veins. In some cases, repeat treatments may be needed as these techniques can be less successful with larger veins. Also there is a higher risk of these varicose veins reappearing within a couple of years. This is also the case with the traditional high tie and strip surgical procedure used by the NHS, but this technique also has the added disadvantage of requiring patients to go under general anesthetic and there is also a risk of developing deep vein thrombosis or nerve damage as a result.

Whilst varicose veins may not be high on your list of priorities when considering which tattoo to get, it is vital that you pause to think about the implications of tattooing is you are already displaying signs of varicose veins or you are thinking of tattooing over areas most prone to varicose veins, such as the legs.

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