What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are enlarged, twisted veins. They can happen anywhere in the body.
But they are more common in the legs.
Varicose veins are not considered a serious health problem. But they can be uncomfortable
and can lead to more serious problems. And because they may be very noticeable, they
may cause people to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.
Spider veins, a milder type of varicose veins, are smaller than varicose veins and
often look like a sunburst or "spider web." They are red or blue in color and are
often found on the face and legs, just under the skin.
What causes varicose veins?
Varicose veins are caused by increased blood pressure in the veins. They can occur
in the veins near the surface of the skin.
The blood moves toward the heart by one-way valves in the veins. When the valves become
weakened or damaged, blood can collect (pool) in the veins and even flow backward.
This causes the veins to become enlarged. Sitting or standing for a long time can
cause blood to pool in the leg veins. This increases the pressure in the veins. The
veins can stretch from the increased pressure. This may weaken the walls of the veins
and damage the valves.
Who is at risk for varicose veins?
You are at risk for varicose veins if you:
Are overweight or obese
Are older in age
Have a family history of the condition
Are a woman
Are not physically active
Have had a leg injury
Use birth control pills (oral contraceptives) or hormone replacement
What are the symptoms of varicose veins?
The most common symptoms of varicose veins are:
Color changes in the skin
Bulging bluish-colored veins
Sores on the legs (leg ulcers)
Sensations in the legs, such as a heavy feeling, burning, or aching
Over time, severe varicose veins may lead to long-term mild swelling. That can result
in more serious skin and tissue problems. These include ulcers and nonhealing sores.
The symptoms of varicose veins may look like other health problems. Always talk with
your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How are varicose veins diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your health history and do a physical exam.
You may also need a duplex ultrasound. This test is a type of ultrasound that checks
blood flow and the structure of the leg veins. Duplex means 2 kinds of ultrasound
How are varicose veins treated?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend
on how severe the condition is.
If you don’t have symptoms, you may not need treatment. But varicose veins may sometimes
get worse without treatment. If you need treatment, it may include:
Leg elevation. You may be instructed to raise (elevate) your feet above your heart 3 or 4 times
a day for about 15 minutes at a time. If you need to sit or stand for a long time,
bending (flexing) your legs now and then can help keep blood circulating. If you have
mild to moderate varicose veins, elevating your legs can help reduce leg swelling
and ease other symptoms.
Compression stockings. These elastic stockings squeeze the veins and prevent blood from traveling down and
pooling in the legs. They can be effective if they are worn every day.
Sclerotherapy. This is the most common treatment. A chemical is injected into the affected veins.
The chemical causes scarring in the veins so that they can no longer carry blood.
Blood then returns to the heart through other veins. The body absorbs the scarred
Endovenous laser ablation or radiofrequency ablation (RFA). This is a minimally invasive procedure. A tube (catheter) puts heat right into the
affected vein. This closes the vein. Once the vein is closed, less blood pools in
the leg. Overall blood flow is improved.
Vein stripping. In more severe cases, the surgeon may tie off and remove veins by making small cuts
in the skin. This procedure may be done when other treatments have not worked
Microphlebectomy. Special tools inserted through small cuts (incisions) are used to remove varicose
veins. Microphlebectomy may be done in your healthcare provider’s office. It may be
done alone or with vein stripping.
What are possible complications of varicose veins?
Varicose veins are often not serious. But complications may happen. They include:
What can I do to prevent varicose veins?
You may help prevent varicose veins by:
Keeping a healthy weight
Putting your feet up while sitting
Not crossing your legs while sitting
Not wearing tight clothing
Key points about varicose veins
Varicose veins are enlarged, twisted veins. They are not often a serious health problem.
Varicose veins can happen anywhere in the body. But they are more common in the legs.
Varicose veins are caused by increased blood pressure in the veins from weakened or
Many factors may raise the risk for varicose veins, such as being overweight, smoking,
and being physically inactive.
Raising (elevating) the legs and wearing compression stockings can help treat varicose
veins. More serious cases may require other treatments or surgery.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help you. Also
know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that
Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.