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Varicose veins - What are varicose veins?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

Many people have varicose veins. Varicose veins don't usually cause any serious problems, but they can ache and cause other symptoms such as itching and throbbing. And you may not like the way they look.

We've brought together the best research about varicose veins and weighed up the evidence about how to treat them. You can use our information to talk to your doctor and decide which treatments, if any, are best for you.

Varicose veins are veins that are swollen because blood isn't flowing through them properly. Varicose veins are very common. If you have varicose veins on your legs, you can usually see them bulging and blue through your skin. Varicose veins don't often cause any serious problems. But they can make your legs ache, and many people are unhappy with how they look.

Varicose veins won't usually go away on their own. But if they're causing you problems, there are treatments that can help your legs look and feel much better. Some treatments have side effects, so you need to consider the pros and cons when deciding which treatment is right for you.

Key points for people with varicose veins

  • Lots of people get varicose veins.

  • You get varicose veins when the valves in some veins don't work properly. So blood collects in these veins instead of flowing up your leg.

  • Varicose veins will slowly get worse if they aren't treated.

  • You can have varicose veins removed by surgery or you can have injections that make the veins disappear. Doctors usually use injections for smaller varicose veins and to get rid of any remaining veins after you've had surgery.

  • Your varicose veins can come back after you've had treatment and you may get new ones. Having surgery seems to keep people's legs free of varicose veins for longer than injections, but surgery may have more risks.

  • There are some things you can try yourself to help with symptoms such as aching and swelling. You could try eating a healthy diet, doing some exercise, or keeping your feet raised when you're resting.To read more, see Self-help for varicose veins .

You and your veins

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Veins are the tubes (or blood vessels) that carry blood to your heart. Other tubes called arteries carry blood from your heart to all round your body.

Blood enters your veins once it has distributed oxygen and food to cells in your body. The blood in your veins looks blue through your skin because it doesn't have oxygen in it.

Veins are stretchy. Usually, they expand and tighten to let different amounts of blood pass through them. The walls of veins have a smooth inner lining.

You have three sets of veins in your legs: deep veins, surface veins, and connecting veins. Once your blood has delivered oxygen and food to the cells in your legs, it collects in your surface veins. Then the blood flows through your connecting veins into your deep veins and goes back to your heart.[1]

Deep veins
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Last Updated: May 01, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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