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Varicose veins

Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 25.04.2023 | 2 min read

Varicose veins are superficial veins that occur on the legs and feet. They can become swollen, enlarged, and visible.  For some people, the appearance is what worries them, and for others, the varicose veins can cause them bothersome symptoms. Warm weather or standing up for a long period of time can make varicose veins appear worse.

What are the symptoms?

Varicose veins may be asymptomatic. Some people may however experience a number of symptoms related to their varicose veins. These can range from mild to severe and may include symptoms such as heavy swollen feet and ankles, uncomfortable burning pain in the legs, and sometimes even muscle cramps. The skin overlying the veins themselves may become dry and itchy. Often people are not happy with their appearance as they can become unsightly as they bulge or become blue or purple in colour.

What causes varicose veins?

Small veins inside your legs are responsible for returning blood to the heart and they contain valves in them which prevent blood from flowing backward. If the valves become damaged or don't work properly, this can lead to blood flowing backward and collecting in the vein which causes them to enlarge and swell. 

Varicose veins can have a genetic component that runs in families, but it is also generally more common in older people and females. Anything that puts pressure on your veins also puts you at risk so for example, being overweight or pregnant or standing for prolonged periods of time. 

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How can I prevent varicose veins?

There is no way to stop varicose veins from occurring, but you can do things to reduce the symptoms that you may experience. Avoiding standing for large periods of time to reduce the pressure placed on your veins. Staying active helps improve your circulation as well as helps manage your weight. Elevating your legs when resting is also important to aid the flow of blood and prevent pooling in the lower legs. 

What can be done about them?

Your doctor will advise you on your treatment options. The first line of treatment is compression stockings to prevent the blood from pooling in your lower legs. There are some surgical options that can be undertaken if your symptoms are causing you significant problems. The procedures include applying heat or foam to close the veins, and also the possibility of removing the whole vein in some instances. The NHS is unable to provide treatment options for cosmetic reasons, this would have to be explored privately. 

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