Varicose Veins Explained

varicose veins The Vein Institute

Varicose Veins

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are twisted enlarged veins generally occurring in the legs and feet. They affect up to 30% of the Australian population and often appear blue or dark purple in colour. Thankfully, modern medical treatments offer an alternative to traditional surgery for those suffering from varicose veins.

What are the symptoms of varicose veins?

Some people experience no symptoms at all whilst others may experience all, or some, of the below. In general, vein pain is considered vague and dull rather than sharp or immediate. If you raise your legs and the pain goes away, this is an indication your pain is vein related.

  • Pain, itching or heaviness in the legs.
  • Burning, throbbing or muscle cramping.
  • Pain that intensified after prolonged sitting or standing.
  • Chronic swelling in the lower legs or ankles.

How are varicose veins diagnosed?

Varicose veins should be diagnosed by a professional veins specialist or Phlebologist. The diagnosis normally starts with a thorough review of your medical history and physical exam to identify the locations and extent of the disease.

Next, a venous ultrasound is performed to look inside your body to assess your vein health. This procedure is crucial because it can tell your physician if the veins are functioning normally or whether the blood is flowing in the wrong direction or pooling – a condition known as reflux. The scan can also reveal hidden varicose veins and detect the formation of new blood clots (deep vein thrombosis) or damage from untreated blood clots.

What causes varicose veins?

  • Genetics. This is most important factor in determining if you may develop varicose veins. If your father has varicose veins the risk of inheritance is 30%, while if your mother has varicose veins the risk goes up to 40%.
  • Standing or sitting for long periods of time. There are some studies suggesting that professions involving prolonged standing increase your risk of developing varicose veins.
  • Gender. Statistically women are at a greater risk of developing varicose veins than men due to a number of physiological and hormonal influences.
  • Aging
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Trauma to the leg area
  • Oral contraceptive pill use

To read more: Varicose Vein Causes

What are the different types of veins on my legs?

Unsure if you have varicose veins? Our self-assessment tool can help you identify potentially dangerous vein issues.

Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are twisted, bulging veins that commonly protrude above the skin. They are usually easily identifiable due to their twisted and discoloured nature, however they are not always visible to the naked eye. The veins become enlarged when the valves stop functioning and the deoxygenated blood pools. This is also the reason why they are a bluish-purple colour – the classic appearance of varicose veins.

Bulging veins

Veins which bulge and protrude above the skin are not always a medical concern. Bulging veins sometimes appear on the arms or legs during exercise. These veins are also often seen on our hands and feet, and become increasingly common as we age.

Reticular veins

Smaller than varicose veins, reticular veins are visible however they do not protrude above the surface of the skin. Due to being filled with deoxygenated blood, the veins appear blue or purple in colour, 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.

Can I prevent varicose veins?

  • Stay active and exercise regularly
  • Keep your weight within a healthy range
  • Eat a high-fiber and low sodium diet
  • Take frequent breaks if your job requires standing or sitting for prolonged periods of time
  • Avoid wearing constrictive clothing such as high heels
  • Elevating your legs if you experience pain or discomfort

Do I need to treat my varicose veins?

If your varicose veins pose little discomfort and health risk, then treatment may not be necessary. Some patients find varicose veins unsightly, however, and wish to have them addressed for aesthetic reasons. If you’re experiencing varicose veins or symptoms, or have a family history of the disease, it’s a good idea to see a professional vein specialist for an assessment.

They will advise you whether treatment is recommended and go over all the treatment options with you.

Are there risks if I don’t treat my varicose veins?

Apart from the physical symptoms, which can impede on daily life, some varicose veins could lead to other health issues. Advanced or severe varicose veins can lead to blood leaking into the tissue and skin. This can cause painful swelling, inflammation and discolouration. Another complication that can occur is hardening of the leg tissue, a condition known as Lipodermosclerosis. In extremely rare cases, untreated varicose veins can lead to the formation of potentially dangerous deep vein thrombosis or blood clots. Every case is different so it is advised that you discuss your personal circumstances with a doctor.

If you’re looking for non-surgical options to treat the symptoms of varicose veins, check out The Vein Institute Shop.