Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are abnormally swollen (dilated) and tortuous (twisted) veins. They are usually situated quite near the surface and are visible beneath the skin and are referred to as superficial veins. Varicose veins are a very common condition affecting about 2 out of 10 adults. They range from small 'spider veins' to large 'rope' veins.

Blood is pumped down to the feet through arteries from the heart. The veins are the pipes that bring the blood back to the heart. They have valves that allow blood to flow back to heart and not reflux back to the foot.

In the leg, there are two sets of veins. The deep system is the most important drainage system and is not visible. It carries most of the blood back to your heart. The superficial veins are nearer the skin and also carry some of the blood back to the heart. The superficial vein system is shown in the picture to the right. When the valves in these superficial veins malfunction varicose veins commonly develop. The blood pools around the foot and ankle and cause pain, swelling and skin discolouring. The superficial veins can also become prominent if the deep veins are not working, which is why the deep veins are checked with ultrasound scan prior to any intervention.

Why do you get varicose veins?

Varicose vein occur with increasing age as the valves become floppy or stiff. It runs in families and is inherited from your parent. Pregnancy tends to makes varicose veins worse. Despite common belief, standing alone does not cause varicose veins. However, patient with varicose veins who stand for long period get more symptoms such as swelling and pain and more aware of their varicose veins. Obesity does cause high venous pressures, and losing weight will improve your symptoms and make interventions safer. You can also get secondary varicose veins, which are due to injuries, clots in the deep system, and blockages. These need to carefully excluded by your vascular surgeon and ultrasound scan.

Are they dangerous?

Majority of varicose veins do not cause any serious harm and do not need treatment unless it is causes discomfort to the patient. In patients who have significant varicose veins, they can cause eczema of the leg that can lead to ulcers. People with severe veins are also predisposed to getting recurrent leg infections, bleeding or clots in the varicose veins. If you are getting these complications from your varicose veins then it is generally best to treat the varicose vein.

Next: Treatment options for varicose veins are described.