Varicose veins mean you have enlarged veins. The valves in your veins no longer close properly, allowing blood to easily accumulate in your arteries. This accumulation causes the veins to thicken. Normally the blood flows to your heart and the valves prevent it from flowing back into your arteries. This process is disrupted by the damaged valves.Varicose veins are often purple-blue in colour and can differ in thickness, length and shape. For example, they can resemble squiggly lines, but also large bumps. Most people have varicose veins in the legs, feet, hands and arms. They can sometimes also appear on the lower abdomen and pubic area.There are a number of factors which increase the risk of varicose veins, or which play a role in their development, such as:
- Age. Older people have an increased risk of varicose veins.
- Gender. Women suffer from it more often than men.
- Being overweight.
- The type of work you do. You will be at an increased risk if you sit a lot during your work.
- Thrombosis. In this case we would refer to it as secondary varicose veins, as it’s caused by another condition.
- An abnormality of the veins.
Varicose veins are usually very visible. This can make you feel insecure or embarrassed. It’s therefore certainly good to know you’re not the only one with varicose veins and that it’s a very common condition. 1 in 4 people suffer from this. Varicose veins generally don't result in any other symptoms. However, occasionally people with varicose veins may suffer from:
- Skin abnormalities. For example, you may suffer from a rash, or hardening or discolouration of your skin.
- A heavy and tired feeling in the arms, legs, hands and/or feet.
- Restlessness in the body parts with varicose veins.
- A build-up of fluid in the arms, legs, hands and/or feet. This is also known as oedema.
- An infection of the vein. The vein is then painful, red, hard and swollen.
- Wounds which don’t heal very effectively.
There are a number of things you can do to prevent varicose veins, or to reduce the symptoms. These include:
- Doing exercises which include your arms, legs, hands and feet. Movement ensures the blood starts to pump and flow better.
- Making sure you maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases the risk of varicose veins.
- Making sure you get enough exercise in a day. For example, go for a regular bike ride or walk.
- Regularly raise your legs. This will allow your blood to flow well.
You can choose to have your varicose veins treated in case of severe symptoms or feelings of embarrassment. You can discuss the various treatment options with your GP. The options are briefly listed below:
- Compression stockings. These are particularly effective for the proper fluid drainage from your legs.
- Sclerotherapy. This treatment involves injecting a special liquid or foam into your veins. This causes a mild inflammatory reaction in your vein. This, in turn, compresses the artery and causes the walls of the artery to stick together. This means the blood can no longer flow through it and the blood is now transported to the heart via other veins.
- Surgery on varicose veins. Your GP can provide you with further information about this.
- Phlebectomy. This is where the dermatologist removes the varicose veins with a special hook. Varicose veins which effectively lie on the surface can be treated like this.
- Crossectomy and stripping. This is an option if the varicose veins are too large or twisty. Your GP will then make incisions in your skin and cut through the vein. Your GP will then remove the intermediate piece from your vein. This is also known as stripping.
- Heating. This causes the varicose veins to be cauterised.