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HealthInfo Canterbury

Varicose veins

Varicose veins are enlarged, twisted veins that usually happen in your legs, although they can happen in other parts of your body.

Varicose veins are usually near the surface of your skin. They can be small or very large.

Most varicose veins don't cause any symptoms. But larger varicose veins can cause:

Possible complications of varicose veins include varicose eczema, venous leg ulcers and thrombophlebitis.

What causes varicose veins?

In healthy veins, blood flows up towards your heart. Small valves open to allow your blood through, then the valves close to stop your blood from flowing backwards.

If your valves are weak or damaged, blood can flow back through your veins causing them to swell. The walls of your veins can also become weak. This is called venous insufficiency.

Swollen veins and weak vein walls can both lead to swollen and enlarged varicose veins.

Varicose veins don't have an underlying cause in most people. Your risk of getting varicose veins is increased by:

How are varicose veins treated?

Treatment options include reducing your risk factors, wearing compression stockings and surgery.

Reducing your risk factors

You can’t control all risk factors, but lifestyle changes can help you lower some risks. This means:

You can also wear compression stockings. These apply pressure to your veins, which encourages blood flow towards your heart.

Surgery

Most people don't need any other treatment. But you might consider surgery if you have complications such as leg ulcers, if you have symptoms like aching veins, or for cosmetic reasons.

Types of surgery include:

When the varicose veins have been closed up, your body redirects your blood flow to healthier veins in your legs.

For more information about these types of surgery, see Treatments for blood vessel problems.

Surgery for varicose veins, venous insufficiency and venous leg ulcers is only available in public hospitals if you're having very severe problems. Talk to your GP, who'll tell you if you're likely to be eligible and refer you to a specialist vascular surgeon (a surgical doctor who specialises in blood vessels). If you're not eligible, they'll be able to guide you to a private specialist vascular surgeon.

You can search for a private vascular surgeon on Healthpages.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by clinical director, Vascular Surgery, Canterbury DHB. Page created July 2018.

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Review key: HIBLV-403653