What are varicose veins?

The main causes of varicose veins include being female, being older, pregnancy, long periods of standing, obesity, genetics, smoking, and being inactive.
The main causes of varicose veins include being female, being older, pregnancy, long periods of standing, obesity, genetics, smoking, and being inactive.

Varicose veins are abnormally enlarged veins. They can occur anywhere in the body, but they are usually found in the legs.

Women are more likely to develop varicose veins than men. This may be because female hormones relax the walls of the veins, which may cause the valves to leak. This can lead to enlarged veins.

Varicose veins are not considered a serious medical condition, but they may cause discomfort and lead to serious problems. They may cause emotional distress as some people may feel they are unsightly and become embarrassed. However, varicose veins are common.

Symptoms of varicose veins

Varicose veins may be visible only after the veins have stretched, but they may accompany other symptoms.

Symptoms of varicose veins include:

  • Large, bumpy veins that look like snakes
  • Feeling of tiredness in the legs
  • Veins that ache
  • Itchiness in the leg and ankle
  • Itchiness after wearing socks
  • Redness or rash often mistaken for dry skin
  • Pain in the leg
  • Swollen ankles and feet
  • Burning and throbbing in the leg
  • Color changes in the skin

Sometimes varicose veins may cause complications. These may include:

  • Inflammation of the veins called phlebitis
  • Bleeding
  • Red, scaling, itchy rash on the inside of the leg above the ankle
  • Clotting in a superficial vein
  • Damage to leg veins that causes a problem in blood flow
  • Ulcer on the leg

Causes of varicose veins

Healthy veins flow blood to the heart. Varicose veins develop when the small valves inside the veins stop working. This causes blood to flow backwards and collect in the vein. The blood pressure increases in the vein and causes it to become stretched, swollen, and enlarged.

Researchers don’t know the exact cause of varicose veins, but certain things can lead to or increase your chances of developing varicose veins. These include:

When to see the doctor for varicose veins

Most varicose veins are not serious and may not need treatment. However, there may be times you need to see the doctor. Speak to your doctor if:

  • Your veins cause significant pain or discomfort
  • You develop an ulcer on your leg
  • The skin over the vein becomes hard, hot, and red
  • Aching at nighttime disturbs your sleep
  • You have a skin rash that isn’t improving
  • You experience significant swelling that doesn’t improve

Diagnosis of varicose veins

Your doctor will diagnose your varicose veins by physical examination. They will take your symptoms and personal and family medical history and they will examine your veins. They will look for bulging veins while you are standing.

Your doctor may also do an ultrasound on your veins. This will help find problems with blood flow and the structure of the veins. They may also check if you are developing other more serious conditions like blood clots, damage to the veins, or ulcers.


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Treatments for varicose veins

Most of the time varicose veins are not serious and don’t need treatment. However, there are some varicose vein treatments and things you can do at home to improve your symptoms.


Elevating your legs above your heart three to four times a day for about 15 minutes may help with blood flow and reduce swelling. If you have to stand for long periods of time at your workplace, bending and flexing your knees may help improve blood flow. When you finish work, try to rest with your feet up to reduce swelling in your legs. If symptoms persist, you may need to ask for accommodations to avoid long periods of standing.

Compression stockings

Compression stockings or support hose are large elastic socks that gently squeeze your veins. These help stop blood from pooling and may be effective if you wear them every day.

Regular exercise

Exercise improves your blood flow and circulation and helps maintain a healthy weight. Weight loss may improve your symptoms.


Scleropathy is a common varicose vein treatment where your doctor injects saline or another substance into your vein. Blood will no longer flow through the vein and the other veins will make up for it.

Thermal ablation

Thermal ablation uses lasers or radiofrequency energy. A small fiber is inserted into the vein through a catheter and the laser or radiofrequency energy delivers heat that destroys the wall of the vein.

Vein stripping

Vein stripping is a surgery to remove varicose veins.

Cyanoacrylate glue occlusion

This is a newer procedure where a special type of glue is injected into the veins. The glue closes the vein and stops blood from flowing through it, which may improve symptoms.

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Medically Reviewed on 2/17/2021
Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Varicose Veins."

Merck Manual: "Varicose Veins."

National Health Service: "Varicose veins – Causes."

National Health Service: "Varicose veins – Treatment."