Varicose veins are a very common chronic (long-term) condition that usually occurs in the legs or feet. However, varicose veins can happen anywhere, including around your anus (bottom), when they’re called haemorrhoids.
Types of varicose veins
A varicose vein occurs when the one-way valves in a vein become weak or damaged, or the walls of a vein weaken — sometimes the walls of a vein are stretched and become less elastic, which can weaken the valves. This allows blood to flow backwards and pool in your vein, which becomes swollen and enlarged (varicose).
You may also suffer from varicose eczema, which is a chronic skin condition that causes dry, flaky and sometimes itchy skin on your lower legs. It’s also known as venous, gravitational or stasis eczema.
About three in 10 adults are affected by varicose veins. They're more likely to develop as you get older.
You’re also at a higher risk of developing varicose veins if you:
Other medical conditions can also increase your risk of varicose veins, such as:
Lifestyle changes such as losing weight or doing more exercise can sometimes prevent varicose veins symptoms worsening.
If your varicose veins are causing problems, they can be removed through surgical and non-surgical techniques.
The main symptom of a varicose vein is a swollen, twisted, blue or purple vein that may have bulges or lumps. Other varicose vein symptoms include:
Varicose veins do not always cause pain.
Your symptoms will usually be worse after standing for a long time or in warm weather. However, you may not experience any pain or discomfort from your varicose veins and therefore may not need to see your GP. However, you should see your GP if:
They'll advise how to get rid of your varicose veins or suggest ways of relieving your symptoms.
Your GP will ask about your general health and how your symptoms are affecting you. They may discuss what causes varicose veins and provide lifestyle advice about ways to relieve your symptoms, including:
If your symptoms are troublesome, your GP may recommend varicose vein removal and refer you to a vascular surgeon, a surgeon who specialises in surgery on blood and lymph vessels.
Your surgeon will examine your affected veins and may send you for an ultrasound scan to locate the damaged valves in your varicose veins.
Varicose vein treatment is usually only needed if:
Treatment involves closing off and destroying the affected veins. There are several surgical techniques and innovations that can be used to remove varicose veins, including:
Other treatments include:
Your doctor will discuss which surgical treatment is best for you. This will depend on your general health and the size, shape and severity of your varicose veins.
Varicose veins prevent proper blood flow, which can cause complications. Although most people with varicose veins do not develop complications. If complications do occur, this is usually several years after the first varicose veins appear.
Evidence suggests that there isn't much you can do to stop new varicose veins developing or stop existing ones getting worse. However, you can ease your symptoms by:
What is the main cause of varicose veins?
Varicose veins occur when the walls of your veins or the valves in your veins weaken. Valves can weaken if the walls of your veins stretch too much and lose their elasticity. This causes blood to pool in your veins, which makes them swell and become enlarged. Varicose veins are more common as you get older as your veins naturally lose their elasticity. Other risk factors include being a woman, pregnant or obese. You are also at greater risk if you have a family history of varicose veins or your job involves a lot of standing.
How do you fix varicose veins?
Varicose veins can be treated through a variety of procedures that close off or remove the affected veins. Several procedures are minimally invasive and involve the insertion of a small catheter through which a laser, glue or radiofrequency energy is passed to seal off the vein. Other procedures involve open surgery where cuts are made to strip out the affected veins. Your doctor will discuss which treatments are most appropriate in your case.
What problems do varicose veins cause?
Varicose veins do not always cause symptoms. However, when they do, common symptoms include aching, heavy and painful legs and dry, flaky, itchy and discoloured skin around your varicose veins. You may also develop leg ulcers and have legs that bleed or bruise easily. Muscle cramps and swollen feet and ankles may also occur.
When should I be concerned about varicose veins?
You should see your GP urgently if you have developed an ulcer because of your varicose veins. You should also see your GP if you develop skin discolouration or swelling, or your symptoms are causing you discomfort or pain. If you are bothered by the appearance of your varicose veins, it is also worth seeing your GP to discuss your treatment options.