What exactly are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are leg veins that do not pump blood effectively up the legs to the heart. They are often seen as bulging veins just underneath your skin on either or both legs. All veins contain small valves that propel blood up the body towards the heart.
Sometimes these valves don’t work properly, so the blood that is meant to be pushed towards the heart moves or “leaks” downwards due to gravity. The extra pressure inside the veins causes them to bulge. This is what causes varicose veins to enlarge and to take on the bluish-purple colour of deoxygenated blood.
Varicose veins have many possible causes, including:
- Professions that require long periods of sitting or standing
- Trauma to the leg area
- Oral contraceptive pill use
Other patients include those whose occupations involve standing on their feet all day e.g. tradesmen, truck drivers, hairdressers, retail staff and factory workers. These people will often have a higher risk of developing varicose veins.
Left untreated, varicose veins do carry medical risks. If the “leak” in these veins is severe, over time it can cause inflammation to the surrounding skin.
If you are experiencing vein pain, avoid exposure to excessive heat e.g. hot tubs, spas, or saunas. Heat increases inflammation and swelling of the vein. Varicose veins are large and can become fragile. Excessive heat can rupture the veins and cause heavy bleeding inside the leg.
To prevent or alleviate the symptoms of varicose veins, it is recommended that you wear compression stockings during prolonged periods of sitting or standing and maintain a healthy lifestyle which includes a balanced diet and regular exercise.
- No symptoms
- Large, bulging veins that you can see under the surface of the skin.
- An achy or heavy feeling in your legs.
- Burning, aching, throbbing, or muscle cramping,
- Worsened pain after sitting or standing for a long time
- Itching around one or more of your veins.
- Chronic swelling in your lower legs.
- Over a period of years, they can cause a brown pigmentation, hardening of your skin, and even a skin ulcer.
For most patients who experience painful varicose veins, the symptoms are aggravated by inaction and resolve when they get up and walk. In most cases, large varicose veins produce more symptoms than small ones.
- Bulging veins – Veins that bulge and protrude above the skin are often a concern for patients who come to see us at The Vein Institute. In some cases, the veins are clearly varicose, because not only are they bulging above the surface of the skin, they are discoloured and have taken on the bluish-purple colour of the deoxygenated blood that have enlarged them, taking on the classic appearance of varicose veins.
- Reticular veins – Smaller than varicose veins these do not protrude above the skin the way that varicose veins do. Blue or purple in colour (because of the deoxygenated blood that fills them), they are most commonly found on the inner thigh, the backs of knees, or on the ankles.
- Spider Veins – These are small clusters of fine, red veins. They are typically considered to be a cosmetic concern.
The tiny valves in your veins that were supposed to keep blood flowing "upwards" towards the heart are damaged by a condition called chronic venous insufficiency or CVI. As a result, over time your circulation may become worse and worse, causing changes in the colour and texture of your legs in addition to swelling. In serious cases, CVI can then result in venous ulcerations which can be extremely painful and difficult to heal.
Additionally, varicose veins can increase your risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) by 5 times more than the average population. Frequent flyers with large varicose veins should see a doctor for an assessment due to an increased risk of DVT.
Have questions about varicose vein treatment?
Do I really need treatment?
Every case is different, so if symptoms arise, you need to discuss your personal circumstances with one of our doctors. Apart from the symptoms that present with varicose veins, they can be unsightly too. There are some veins that can cause medical symptoms, and again if symptoms arise we strongly suggest you discussing your case with our doctors.
STEP / 01
One of our doctors will take a medical history and listen to your concerns. After this a short scan will be performed letting you know whether you have varicose vein disease. A discussion of your treatment options will then happen. In some cases treatment may not be recommended depending on your medical circumstances.
STEP / 02
Scans to assess your veins
Varicose veins are easy to diagnose on the surface, however, these leg veins often have a deeper source. To determine their extent, a specialised safe scan (known as ultrasound) is required to assess these leg veins which cannot be seen from the skin. During this time other important veins will be looked at to exclude more sinister vein disease.
STEP / 03
To improve your venous circulation, treatment may be recommended by one of our doctors using a laser treatment method. Your blood will then be able to find its way back to your heart via a more efficient path. Most patients find relief of leg aches after treatment. Click here to find out our patient outcomes