Varicose veins are enlarged and swollen veins. They can occur anywhere in the body, but are particularly common in the surface veins in the legs.
Veins have one way valves to channel blood back to the heart. Varicose veins develop when the valves of the veins become damaged. This causes blood to pool in the veins, enlarging them and often making the veins just beneath the skin visible.
Varicose veins are more common in women who are of childbearing age and older. Other factors that increase your chance of getting varicose veins include:
- Family members with varicose veins
- Hormonal changes, as with puberty, pregnancy, or menopause
- Pressure on the veins of the pelvis, as with pregnancy
- Job that requires you to sit or stand for long periods of time without much movement
Varicose veins may cause:
- Enlarged, twisted, and swollen veins that are visible through the skin
- Achy, tired, heavy feeling in the area of the varicose veins or generally in the legs, especially after standing
- Leg cramps
- Burning or throbbing pain in the legs
- Swollen legs
In severe cases, varicose veins may cause skin changes. These changes occur under the area of the varicose veins and include:
- Sores that are difficult to heal
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Varicose veins can be easily seen. An ultrasound exam of your legs may also be done.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options may include one or more of the following:
Conservative treatment is tried first to relieve symptoms. Steps may include:
- Avoid standing for long periods of time.
- Rest with your legs elevated.
- Flex legs occasionally when standing or sitting for long periods.
- Wear compression stockings. Wearing these may help improve circulation in the leg veins.
Veins that are causing more severe symptoms may need further treatment such as:
- Laser or light source therapy—laser or light source energy used to seal, collapse, and dissolve varicose veins
- Sclerotherapy—injects the varicose veins with a chemical to shrink the veins
- Radiofrequency ablation—collapses and seals varicose veins using radiofrequency energy
- Surgery—banding and removing varicose veins—only for severe cases
Varicose veins can't be completely prevented, especially if they run in your family. The following recommendations may help:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Try to avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time.
- Try to avoid crossing your legs for long periods of time while sitting
- Keep your legs elevated when resting
- Consider wearing support hose
American College of Phlebology
American Society of Plastic Surgeons
Canadian Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery
Canadian Society for Vascular Surgery
Varicose veins. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 29, 2013. Accessed August 8, 2013.
Varicose veins. VascularWeb website. Available at: http://www.vascularweb.org/vascularhealth/pages/varicose-veins.aspx. Updated January 2012. Accessed August 8, 2013.
Varicose veins and spider veins fact sheet. US Office on Women's Health. Available at: http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/varicose-spider-veins.cfm. Updated June 2, 2010. Accessed August 8, 2013.
Last reviewed August 2013 by Michael J. Fucci, DO; Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.