Varicose veins are swollen, twisted, and enlarged veins that you can see under the skin. They are often red or blue in color. They usually appear in the legs, but can occur in other parts of the body.
Normally, one-way valves in your leg veins keep blood moving up toward the heart. When the valves do not work properly, they allow blood to back up into the vein. The vein swells from the blood that collects there, which causes varicose veins. Smaller varicose veins that you can see on the surface of the skin are called spider veins.
Varicose veins are common, and affect more women than men. They don't cause problems for most people. However, in some people, they can lead to serious conditions, such as leg swelling and pain, blood clots, and skin changes.
Risk factors include:
Severe symptoms include:
Your doctor will examine your legs to look for swelling, changes in skin color, or sores. Your doctor also may:
Your doctor may suggest that you take the following self-care steps to help manage varicose veins:
If your condition is severe, your doctor may recommend the following treatments:
Varicose veins tend to get worse over time. Taking self-care steps can help relieve achiness and pain, keep varicose veins from getting worse, and prevent more serious problems.
Call your health care provider if:
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Goldman MP, Guex JJ, Weiss RA. Clinical methods for sclerotherapy of varicose veins. In: Sclerotherapy: Treatment of Varicose and Telangiectatic Leg Veins. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011.
Nijsten T, van den Bos RR, Goldman MP, et al. Minimally invasive techniques in the treatment of saphenous varicose veins. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2009;60:110-119.
Updated by: Deepak Sudheendra, MD, Assistant Professor of Interventional Radiology & Surgery, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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