Varicose Veins: Complications, Treatment and Prevention
Published: 10 December 2019
Published: 10 December 2019
Varicose veins are swollen, twisted, blue-in-colour blood vessels under the skin. They most commonly occur in the legs and feet.
Veins have one-way valves inside of them that open and close to keep blood flowing toward the heart. When weakened or damaged, valves or walls in the vein cause blood to pool or even to flow backwards (reflux). Varicose veins occur when veins have grown larger and have become distorted (NIH n.d.).
Note that while they mainly appear in the legs, varicose veins can also occur in the:
Closely associated with varicose veins are ‘spider veins’. Spider veins occur when blood that collects in varicose veins leaks into smaller blood vessels (capillaries) and enlarge them. Spider veins are smaller and closer to the surface of the skin, they are often found on the face or legs (Healthdirect 2018).
As veins in the legs are far away from the heart, blood is working against gravity for a long distance, making it more difficult for blood to flow upwards (Brazier 2017; Office on Women’s Health 2019.
Any situation in which blood flow is restricted or undermined is cause for concern. Complications of varicose veins include:
The exact reason why varicose veins occur in certain people is unknown. However, there is considerable evidence to support the claim that genetic links and a past history of deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot that occurs in a deep vein) are predictors for this condition (Wright & Fitridge 2013).
Women are more likely to get varicose veins than men (Office on Women’s Health 2019), it may be that female hormones dilate veins. If this is the case, birth control pills or hormone therapy could contribute to the likelihood of developing varicose veins (Brazier 2017).
Other risk factors include:
(Brazier 2017; Healthdirect 2018)
(Healthdirect 2018; Better Health Channel 2018; Brazier 2017; NIH n.d.)
To diagnose varicose veins, a general practitioner (GP) will do a physical examination and request the following information:
A GP might assess the health of the leg veins using ultrasound or other imaging tests such as an x-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan (NIH n.d.).
Treatment options range from conservative to surgical approaches. Varicose veins are a progressive disease, so they will steadily worsen. Complications develop in a relatively small number of cases and may prompt the patient to seek medical care (NIH n.d.).
Treatment options include:
(Healthdirect 2018; NIH n.d.)
The aim of treatment is to relieve symptoms and improve appearance, and prevent complications such as serious skin ulcers or sores; deep vein thrombosis; skin colour changes; and bleeding (NIH n.d.).
Note that bleeding from varicose veins is considered a medical emergency (NIH n.d.).
Age, general health condition, and symptomatology will be deciding factors for the route of treatment for people living with varicose veins (NIH n.d.).
While it is not entirely within a person’s control to prevent varicose veins, the following may help to reduce the risk of developing them or developing more:
(Healthdirect 2018; Better Health Channel 2018)
Question 1 of 3
True or false? Men are more likely than women to develop varicose veins.
Start an Ausmed Subscription to unlock this feature!
Ausmed’s Editorial team is committed to providing high-quality and thoroughly researched content to our readers, free of any commercial bias or conflict of interest. All articles are developed in consultation with healthcare professionals and peer reviewed where necessary, undergoing a yearly review to ensure all healthcare information is kept up to date. See Educator Profile