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Varicose veins are common in the legs.

Varicose veins are common in the legs.
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Varicose veins

2-minute read

Varicose veins can be painful and without treatment, they often get worse. Talk to your doctor if you notice any symptoms. Treatments are available, and there is plenty you can do to help.

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are swollen, twisted blood vessels just under the skin. You can get them anywhere, but they’re most common in the legs and feet.

Healthy leg veins have one-way valves to help blood flow up to the heart. Varicose veins happen when the tiny valves in the vein become damaged or stop working. This causes the blood to pool in the veins and stretch them out.

Blood that collects in varicose veins can leak into smaller blood vessels (capillaries), which enlarge and form ‘spider veins’.

For information on varicose veins and pregnancy, visit Pregnancy, Birth and Baby.

What causes varicose veins?

It is not known why some people get varicose veins and others don’t.

They are more common in people who:

Varicose veins symptoms

Some people don’t notice any symptoms, other than enlarged veins.

Others may have:

  • aching, throbbing or burning leg pain
  • heaviness, cramping or restless legs
  • swollen ankles
  • darkening of the skin over the veins
  • an itchy rash (varicose eczema)

Less common symptoms are:

  • ulcers
  • clotting
  • bleeding from the affected vein

Symptoms may be worse at the end of the day.

Varicose veins treatment

There are a number of treatment options to ease your symptoms and stop varicose veins getting worse:

  • sclerotherapy – injecting chemicals to block the veins
  • laser or ablation therapy – using heat to seal the veins
  • surgery – removing veins through small punctures or cuts

Your doctor might suggest you wear compression stockings, which create gentle pressure that stops the blood pooling in the legs.

Varicose veins prevention

There’s no sure-fire way to prevent varicose veins, although you can reduce your risk of getting them, or getting more, by:

  • managing your weight
  • being more active
  • changing your sitting or standing position regularly
  • avoiding wearing high heels for long periods
  • putting your legs up when resting
  • don't cross your legs when you're sitting

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2018

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