What Are Varicose Veins?


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Varicose veins are large, blue, swollen veins that can appear bumpy or abnormal. They are caused by the valves inside the veins, which stop working causing blood to flow in the wrong direction. Varicose veins are very common affecting up to 33% of the population although they do not usually cause any problems.

How do the Veins Work?

Veins are responsible for carrying blood from the body into the heart. This is controlled by valves, which stop the blood from flowing in the wrong direction. This counteracts gravity, which tries to pull the blood downwards, away from the heart. There are three types of vein:

  • Superficial veins are just beneath the skin’s surface
  • Deep veins cannot be seen as they go through the muscle
  • Communicating veins carry blood from superficial veins to deep veins

What are Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins occur when the superficial veins are swollen making them visible through the surface of the skin. They appear lumpy and swollen. They are formed by an excess of blood in one area due to the failure of the valves to prevent backflow, which causes the vein walls to stretch and swell. Varicose veins can appear all over the body, although they are most common in the legs and anal area. They are often confused with spider veins, or thread veins, which are smaller and cause fewer problems.

Causes of Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are caused by the weakening of the vein wall, which allows sections to become wider. This can damage the valves of the veins and allow your blood to leak through in the wrong direction. When this occurs, more pressure is created in the vein causing further leakages. This causes the blood to collect in the widened veins making them more prominent.

This weakening can be caused by several factors such as pregnancy, age, excess weight, thrombosis, and standing for long periods of time. Anything that prevents normal blood circulation can lead to varicose veins.

Symptoms and Problems of Varicose Veins

The biggest problem for most people with varicose veins is their appearance, other than this it is unlikely that you will suffer any symptoms. On the other hand, a minority of people may experience symptoms such as aching, itchiness, and swelling.

There are a number of rare complications associated with varicose veins that can cause discomfort and skin changes. These complications include:

  • Inflammation of the vein
  • Swelling of the limbs
  • Varicose ulcers
  • Varicose eczema
  • Skin discolouration
  • Bleeding

If these conditions develop, you may need treatment for your varicose veins. This treatment can be done on the NHS if it is for medical reasons, or privately if it is for cosmetic or medical reasons. There are also a number of products available in shops to combat varicose veins and their complications


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