What are varicose veins?
Healthy leg veins have one-way valves to help blood flow up to the heart. They happen when the tiny valves in the vein become damaged or stop working. This causes the blood to pool in the veins.
Blood that collects in varicose veins can leak into smaller blood vessels (capillaries), which enlarge and form ‘spider veins’.
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:
- have varicose veins in the family
- have had a deep vein thrombosis (blood clot) in their legs
- are overweight
- are pregnant or going through menopause
- stand a lot
- don’t move much.
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:
- 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.
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.
Last reviewed: October 2015