Varicose veins

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.

Key points

  1. Varicose veins usually affect veins that are found just below the surface of your skin, most commonly in your legs. 
  2. The most common symptom is enlarged swollen veins but is some cases they can cause pain and discomfort.
  3. 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.
  4. Varicose veins can be treated by a surgical procedure which redirects blood flow to other veins.
  5. 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 most common symptom is enlarged, swollen veins that may not cause any concern other than their appearance. Other symptoms can include:

  • painful or aching legs
  • swelling
  • dry, itchy skin.

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 traveling 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
  • 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. If they’re not causing you any problems you usually don’t need to see your GP.

What is the treatment for varicose veins?

Varicose veins usually don’t require any treatment. If you’re concerned about their appearance your GP may be able to 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.

See your GP if your varicose veins are causing:

  • pain or discomfort
  • swelling of your legs or feet
  • skin changes around the varicose vein.

Varicose veins can increase your risk of developing venous leg ulcers, so if you have been diagnosed with a leg ulcer your GP may 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.

Learn More

Varicose veins Australian and New Zealand Society for Vascular Surgery, 2018

References

  1. Varicose veins NHS Choices, UK, 2015
  2. Varicose veins Patient Info, UK, 2016
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.