Varicose veins are enlarged and swollen veins that are most commonly found in your legs and feet. They’re usually blue or purple and are more common in women than men.
- Varicose veins usually affect veins that are found just below the surface of your skin, most commonly in your legs.
- The main symptom is enlarged swollen veins. In some cases, they can cause pain, discomfort, swelling, dry and itchy skin and an eczema rash.
- You’re more at risk of developing varicose veins if you are female, overweight, pregnant, stand for long periods or have a family history of varicose veins.
- Varicose veins can be treated by a minimally invasive surgical procedure which redirects blood flow to other veins.
- You may be able to reduce your chances of developing varicose veins by avoiding standing or sitting for long periods of time, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and raising your legs to hip height when sitting.
What are the symptoms of varicose veins?
Varicose veins usually affect the superficial veins in your legs that are found just below the surface of your skin. The main symptom is enlarged, swollen veins that may not cause any concern other than their appearance. Other symptoms can include:
- painful or aching legs
- dry, itchy skin.
If left untreated, the potential complications include eczema rash, recurrent skin infections, venous ulcers, bleeding veins and blood clots.
What are the causes of varicose veins?
Veins are part of the network of blood vessels that carry blood around your body. One-way valves within your veins open and close to prevent blood from travelling the wrong way. When these valves are damaged, blood collects in the veins in your legs causing increased pressure which leads to varicose veins.
You are more at risk of developing varicose veins if you:
- are female
- are overweight
- stand for long periods of time during the day
- have a family history of varicose veins
- have suffered from deep vein thrombosis previously
- are pregnant.
Your risk also increases as you age due to the veins in your legs losing their elasticity over time and affecting how well the valves open and close.
How are varicose veins diagnosed?
Varicose veins are usually easily diagnosed because they’re visible beneath the surface of your skin.
What is the treatment for varicose veins?
If your varicose veins are causing minimal or no symptoms, your GP may just recommend conservative care, such as that you try to lose some weight, stop smoking, exercise regularly, wear compression stockings and lift your leg to your hip height when resting.
They should also refer you to a vascular surgeon for advice and treatment. Most procedures to treat varicose veins focus on sealing off the varicose vein and redirecting blood flow to other veins. These are often minimally invasive procedures that are performed under local anaesthetic with quick recovery time.
See your GP if your varicose veins are causing:
Varicose veins can increase your risk of developing venous leg ulcers, so if you have been diagnosed with a leg ulcer your GP should recommend further treatment.
What self-care can I do with varicose veins?
Varicose veins develop due to many reasons and they’re often unable to be prevented. Some ways you can try to prevent developing further varicose veins include:
- avoiding standing or sitting for long periods of time
- maintaining a healthy weight
- exercising regularly – this can help with managing your weight and improve blood circulation
- elevating your legs to hip height when sitting
- using compression stockings.
Varicose veins Australian and New Zealand Society for Vascular Surgery, 2018
|Dr Lupe Taumoepeau is a vascular and transplant surgeon at Wellington Hospital. While she is involved in all forms of open and endovascular surgery, her interests include management of diabetic foot disease, complex endovascular aortic surgery and renal transplant. She is also actively involved in prevocational medical education and mentoring of women wanting to pursue a career in surgery.|