A Brief History of Veins

Greek Relief Sculpture of a Man holding a leg

FROM TIME IMMEMORIAL, people have been vexed with these things called varicose veins. The word vari­cose itself dates back to ancient Greece and is derived from a word meaning grapelike. Well, if you’ve ever seen someone who has a hor­rible cluster of varicose veins you can understand why “grapelike” is so apropos. The first description of varicose veins in a medical writing was found in the Ebers papyrus possibly dating back as far as 3,500 years ago. These ancient Egyptian healers referred to varicose veins as “serpentine windings” and went on to say that they should not be oper­ated on because the patients would be “head to the ground.” Now, I’m not exactly sure what that meant but I think I have a pretty good idea.

Hippocrates, considered the father of modern medicine, made some advances in treatment and actually talked about the use of compression wraps, something that vein doctors today find cru­cially important. He also believed in cautery and said, “What cannot be cured by medicaments (medica­tion) is cured by the knife (surgery), what cannot be cured by the knife is cured with the searing iron (today: laser ablation), whatever this cannot cure must be considered incurable.” Insightful guy!

The Romans, as you might expect, started to get a little more invasive with their treat­ments. Galen was possibly the first physi­cian to describe phlebectomy, a procedure still used today. You must remember though, this was in the days way before anesthesia of any sort- except that which came from the vine, of course! One Roman emperor who was treated for varicose veins in one leg is recorded as having said, “I see the cure is not worth the pain!” Needless to say, the other leg was not treated and the treating physi­cian was probably thrown to the lions.

It wasn’t until the twentieth century that surgical procedures became very aggressive with the advent of general anesthesia, but recently, we have found that being overly aggressive is not good, either. Vein therapy has made tremendous advancements just over the past 10 years and the full spectrum of venous disease can be taken care of easily in the office with minimal to no down time. Unlike the Roman emperor mentioned, there is no reason not to undergo treatment for painful, unsightly varicose veins and…  There should never be a reason to throw your phy­sician to the lions! 

Author
Randall Juleff, MD, FACS Randall Juleff, MD, FACS Randall Juleff, MD, FACS has over two decades of experience in treating hundreds of patient with venous disorders, as well as a range of vascular, thoracic, and cardiac disease. Triple board-certified in phlebology, general surgery, and cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, Dr. Juleff offers four convenient locations in Hawai'i as well as two in Louisiana.

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