How to Tell the Difference Between Normal Veins and Varicose Veins?

March 25, 2021
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March 25, 2021 Dr Zil Yassine

Varicose veins are the most common venous issue that people can suffer from, affecting up to a third of all adults. So how do you tell the difference between a vein that is just a bit more prominent and one that is varicose and insufficient? Making the distinction isn’t only about what it looks like, there is much more to consider.

What are varicose veins?

Veins are responsible for carrying oxygen-rich blood from around the body, back up to the heart. Sometimes the vein valves or vein walls can become damaged and this can lead to Chronic Venous Insufficiency, or CVI, which results in the blood being unable to sufficiently flow.

When CVI occurs, blood begins to reflux or pool and this can either lead to the twisted, enlarged vessels you know as varicose veins. Or the smaller web-like veins, known as spider veins. If you suspect you have spider veins but are not sure, try our Vein Assessment Tool.

How to tell the difference between normal veins and varicose veins?

Telling the difference between the two lies in understanding how they differ in function. When a vein is healthy, it brings red oxygenated blood from the heart down into the legs and blue deoxygenated blood back up to the heart again. These veins aren’t often visible unless you’re exercising when the veins pump blood to the surface of the skin to keep you cool. When they are visible, they appear below the surface without any raised bumps of edges.

When it comes to varicose veins, they tend to appear as raised or even bulging, most often a green or purple colour (this is because the blue blood mixes with the yellow of the skin pigment in the light).

While there’s a visual difference, varicose veins can also cause a range of symptoms. If the area becomes itchy, swollen or causes a hot or burning sensation, particularly at the end of the day, they’re likely varicose veins. Learn more: Varicose Vein Symptoms.

When to speak to your doctor

While you might have a strong suspicion that the condition is developing, no matter how keen your eyes and honed your senses, you’re only able to see the veins on the surface. Varicose veins can develop out of sight alongside the others closer to the skin. Seeing a vein expert is the best way to check all your veins, as they can do a full image scan of your legs using ultrasound technology to observe even the deepest veins in your legs.

Close up image of legs, the left leg has varicose veins the right leg normal veins

What to do?

If you have spotted varicose veins in your legs, or you’ve had a specialist confirm it for you, taking the right steps to manage the issue is crucial for your vein health. While for some people, their condition may never progress past their current state, others may find the symptoms become increasingly worse, or they may even indicate a more serious underlying condition.

To keep the symptoms under control, at a minimum, you should be taking care of them at home. This includes such things as:

  • Wearing compression stockings to reduce swelling and aid blood-flow, helping slow down their development.
  • Exercise more regularly, particularly swimming, walking and running.
  • Cut down on foods high in fat and sugar.

If the veins are causing swelling, pain, itchiness or other symptoms, it’s worth speaking to a vein doctor to look at getting them treated. With current treatments virtually pain-free and requiring no downtime, having your veins treated is a better choice than ever these days.

Diagram of a normal functioning vein with healthy vein valves, a varicose vein with damaged vein valves and then an image of how the varicose vein looks when compressed by wearing medical-grade compression stockings.

Seek expert advice

The doctors at The Vein Institute specialise in varicose vein treatment. We offer patients a comprehensive program using non-surgical laser treatment techniques. You can learn more in our Definitive Guide to Varicose Vein Treatment.

The benefits of non-surgical treatment are:

  • Walk-in walk-out treatment
  • 98% success rate
  • Extremely effective
  • Can be performed at a clinic (no hospitalisation)
  • No general anaesthetic
  • Medicare rebates apply
  • No downtime or time away from work

To book a consultation and discuss our treatment program, call  1300 981 402. Or, make an enquiry via the Contact Us page.