Varicose Veins

What are Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins are dilated, tortuous, visible superficial veins in the legs. They may be blue or purple in colour and often appear lumpy, bulging and irregular. They are very common and generally do not cause medical problems. However, if left untreated, they can lead to permanent skin changes and ultimately ulceration.


They are nearly always caused by poorly functioning valves within the veins. Normally blood flows from the superficial to the deep veins and then through the deep leg veins up towards the heart. This flow is controlled by a one-way system of valves which prevents the blood from flowing in the wrong direction, back down the leg to the ankles. Varicose veins occur when these valves, in the veins of your leg, fail. This allows blood to flow in the wrong direction causing pooling of blood, an increase in pressure on the more superficial veins and distension of the surface veins. These then gradually become more and more prominent.


The most common sites for such problems to occur are where the main surface veins connect to deeper veins at the groin (long saphenous vein), or behind the knee (short saphenous vein). These are also known as truncal varicose veins.

Symptoms of Varicose Veins

  • Aching

  • Heaviness

  • Cramps in the legs (usually at night)

  • Tender and inflamed veins (phlebitis).

  • Skin changes (especially around the ankle) - brown discoloration or staining of the skin

  • Flaking and itching (varicose eczema).

  • Bleeding from varicosities

  • Leg swelling (oedema)

  • In later stages the skin changes can progress to breakdown of the skin and the development of venous ulcers.

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Varicose veins are usually easily visible and cause some people concern purely because of their unsightly appearance.

Do I need Treatment?

Not all patients with varicose veins need treatment. Simple measures, such as weight reduction, wearing support tights or compression stockings and trying to avoid long spells of standing, may be sufficient to alleviate aching symptoms, but these will not cure the underlying problem.

 

Reasons to consider definitive treatment include:

  • to improve the appearance

  • to alleviate symptoms

  • to treat developing skin changes

  • to prevent or aid in the management of venous ulcers.

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