Varicose veins are the result of a medical condition called Chronic Venous Insufficiency, or CVI. The impacted veins are swollen, enlarged and twisted with a blue or purple appearance. Varicose veins develop when vein valves, which are responsible for forcing blood back up towards the heart, become damaged. When blood is not able to flow back up to the heart, it begins to reflux or pool, forming the enlarged vessels you know as varicose veins.
Any vein could become varicose, but the veins which are most commonly impacted are those in your legs. This is believed to be due to inflammation in the vein wall which is caused by additional pressure that is put on your veins when walking or standing for long periods of time.
Characteristics of varicose veins which doctors see are:
- The interior vein walls become less smooth and may look irritated or inflamed.
- The vein valves become dysfunctional and no longer close properly.
What are the symptoms of varicose veins?
Some people experience no symptoms at all whilst other 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.
The most common symptoms are:
- 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.
- Trauma to the leg area
- Oral contraceptive pill use
What are the different types of veins on my legs?
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- 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.
- Varicose veins: In some cases, bulging veins are clearly varicose because they are twisted and discoloured. The veins become enlarged due to the deoxygenated blood which fills them. This is also the reason why they are bluish-purple colour - 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.
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 or socks
- 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.
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.