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Varicose veins

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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.

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.

Most varicose veins do not cause any symptoms. But larger varicose veins can cause:

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

Reducing your risk of varicose veins

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

Treating varicose veins

Treatment options include wearing compression stockings and surgery.

Compression stockings apply pressure to your veins, which encourages blood flow towards your heart.

Surgery

Most people do not need any other treatment. But you might consider surgery if you have complications such as leg ulcers or 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.

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 general practice team who will 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 aren't eligible, they will be able to guide you to a private specialist vascular surgeon.

You can search for a private vascular surgeon on Healthpoint.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed August 2022.

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