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Varicose Veins Causes and Treatment

Updated on January 15, 2010

Varicose veins never kill their owner, but they certainly cause a great deal of discomfort, and also a significant drop in ego and self-esteem when their owner finds others staring at the large, ugly, blue, knotted patterns they describe across the blotchy, red and sometimes ulcerated skin. Unfortunately, there are no magic cures for this very common problem, but doctors do have ways of reducing the symptoms and removing the veins that cause tired, aching, swollen legs.

The heart pumps blood out around the body through arteries. These become smaller and smaller until they are only one cell in diameter, when they are known as capillaries. In the capillaries, the oxygen and nutrition are removed from the blood, which then travels back to the heart through the veins. Two systems of veins are used in the legs to move the blood from the feet back to the heart. One system is deep inside the muscles of the calf and thigh, the other system is outside the muscles and just under the skin. It is in this superficial system that varicose veins occur.

The contraction of the muscles in the leg supplies the force to move the blood out of the legs. The muscle movement squashes the veins, and with the aid of one-way valves scattered through the superficial venous network, the blood is steadily pushed back towards the heart.

Pregnancy (because of the growing baby putting pressure on the veins in the pelvis) and prolonged standing (in jobs like hair-dressing and shop assistant) make it difficult for the blood to move up from the legs into the body. The veins then become swollen with blood, and the one-way valves can become damaged. The damaged valves then allow more blood to remain in the veins, dilating them further and eventually causing the grossly dilated varicose veins.

Reducing the amount of standing, wearing elastic support stockings and regularly exercising the muscles in the legs while standing may prevent varicose veins. Once present, there are tablets that can reduce the aching that may be present in the dilated veins, but only surgical procedures can permanently remove the veins.

Injections may be used to destroy small, fine, spider-like networks of veins. This is rather like injecting a special type of glue into the veins, to stick the walls together. Larger isolated veins can be removed one at a time by a 'nick and pick' procedure, with a small cut being made over each vein to allow its removal. The most major procedure is stripping, where most of the superficial veins on one side of the leg from the groin to the ankle are removed. This procedure may be combined with a 'nick and pick'. After all these procedures, the leg must remain firmly bandaged for several weeks.

The operations are successful in most people, but they do not prevent the development of veins elsewhere in the legs, and the skin staining caused by the varicosities is usually permanent. It is sensible to discuss the matter with your general practitioner sooner rather than later if varicose veins worry you, so that referral to a surgeon can be arranged before too many of the tortuous veins develop.

Please Note:


  • The information provided on this page is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a registered physician or other healthcare professional.

  • The content of this page is intended only to provide a summary and general overview. Do not use this information to disregard medical advice, nor to delay seeking medical advice.

  • Be sure to consult with your doctor for a professional diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment.

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