Top of the page
Varicose veins are twisted, enlarged veins near the surface of the skin. They are most common in the legs and ankles. Varicose veins usually aren't serious.
Varicose veins are caused by weakened valves and veins in your legs. Normally, one-way valves in your veins keep blood flowing from your legs up toward your heart. When these valves don't work as they should, blood collects in your legs, and pressure builds up. The veins become weak, large, and twisted.
Varicose veins look like swollen and twisted blood vessels under the skin. They may not cause any symptoms. Mild symptoms may include heaviness, burning, aching, tiredness, or pain in your legs. Symptoms may be worse after you stand or sit for long periods of time.
To diagnose varicose veins, your doctor will look at your legs and feet. The doctor will check your legs for tender areas, swelling, skin colour changes, sores, and other signs of skin breakdown. You might need tests if you plan to have treatment or if you have signs of a deep vein problem.
Home treatment may be all you need to ease your symptoms and keep the varicose veins from getting worse. Wear compression stockings. Stay at a healthy weight. Prop up (elevate) your legs. Avoid long periods of sitting or standing. And get regular exercise. Procedures to close or remove varicose veins may also be done.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Varicose veins often run in families. You may be born with defective valves or weak walls in your veins, or you may develop them later in life. Varicose veins happen more often as people get older.
Varicose veins often form during pregnancy. They might become less prominent after pregnancy and may disappear completely.
Factors that increase your risk of developing varicose veins include:
Varicose veins may be prevented to some extent. Here are a few things you can try.
Lose weight if you need to.
Exercise may help improve blood flow in your legs.
Varicose veins look like swollen and twisted blood vessels under the skin. They may not cause any symptoms. Mild symptoms may include:
More serious symptoms include:
Varicose veins usually don't cause problems. There are things you can do at home to help with symptoms and keep varicose veins from getting worse. But if you have symptoms or the way your veins look bothers you, there are procedures that may help.
Most varicose veins aren't a serious medical problem, but they sometimes can lead to complications.
Complications can include:
Varicose veins most often are a result of problems in the superficial veins just under the skin. But they can happen along with problems or disease in the deep veins and perforating veins, which connect the deep and the superficial veins. Complications are much more common when varicose veins are caused by or linked with these deeper veins.
Call your doctor if you have varicose veins and:
Varicose veins are common and generally aren't a serious health problem. With a doctor keeping an eye on the condition, most people can manage varicose veins with home treatment. This includes exercise, wearing compression stockings, and propping up the legs.
Varicose veins are most often diagnosed based on how they look. No special tests are needed to confirm the diagnosis.
Your doctor will:
You might need tests if you plan to have treatment or if you have signs of a deep vein problem. Duplex Doppler ultrasound is the most commonly used test. It can help your doctor study blood flow in your leg veins.
The goals of treatment for varicose veins are to reduce symptoms and prevent complications. For some, the goal may be related to how the veins look. Home treatment is usually the first approach.
Home treatment may be all you need to ease your symptoms and keep the varicose veins from getting worse. You can:
If home treatment doesn't help, there are procedures that can treat varicose veins. These include:
Endovenous ablation is a procedure to close off varicose veins. Endovenous means that the procedure is done inside the vein. Ablation means a doctor uses something to damage and close off the vein. This may be heat, chemicals, or a small wire.
This treatment is a type of surgery. Cuts (incisions) are made over the varicose vein, and the vein is tied off (ligated) and removed (stripped).
Several tiny cuts are made in the skin through which the varicose vein is removed. This is also called microphlebectomy, ambulatory phlebectomy, or stab avulsion.
A chemical is injected into a varicose vein to damage and scar the inside lining of the vein, causing the vein to close.
Laser energy is used to scar and destroy varicose veins. Simple laser therapy is done on small veins close to the skin, such as spider veins. The laser is used outside of your skin.
The size of your varicose veins affects your treatment options.
Self-care, or home treatment, is recommended for most people with varicose veins. Home treatment may relieve symptoms and slow down the progress of varicose veins. For many people, home treatment is the only treatment they need.
Your doctor can help you create a home treatment plan that is right for you. Here are some examples of things you can do at home.
Exercise can help relieve symptoms and slow the progression of varicose veins by improving blood circulation in your legs.
Staying at a healthy weight, and losing weight if you need to, may help relieve symptoms caused by your varicose veins. Being overweight can increase the swelling and discomfort of varicose veins.
When you elevate your legs, ideally at or above heart level, it helps keep the blood from pooling in your lower legs and improves blood flow to the rest of your body.
Keep your feet flat on the floor or cross them at the ankles. Crossing legs at the knees squeezes veins and blocks blood flow.
Sitting or standing still for long periods of time puts added stress on the veins in your legs.
Compression stockings are a main treatment for varicose veins that are causing symptoms. They improve circulation and help relieve symptoms.
Your skin may be more fragile and even minor injuries can lead to skin ulcers.
Smoking can make varicose veins worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
Varicose veins just under the skin sometimes cause minor problems. Most can be treated at home.
If you bump your leg, prop up your leg and apply ice or cold packs right away. Apply the ice or cold pack for 10 to 20 minutes, 3 or more times a day. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
Mild bleeding usually stops on its own or slows to an ooze or trickle after 15 minutes of pressure. It may ooze or trickle for up to 45 minutes. Call your doctor if the bleeding does not stop after 45 minutes.
Follow your doctor's instructions. Care may include the following:
Talk to your doctor if you have questions.
Current as of: December 19, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffClinical Review Board: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: December 19, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2023 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.