Varicose Veins: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention


Varicose veins generally pose no serious threat to health, but can be considered unsightly and sometimes cause pain and discomfort. They result from a failure of function of the valves within a vein, which are designed to stop blood flowing backwards, as part of the circulatory system. When these valves fail blood can begin collecting in the affected vein, resulting in enlargement and swelling.

There are three main types of varicose veins: trunk varicose veins which are the most familiar, appearing lumpy and very visible; reticular which are red and tend to be tightly grouped together; and telangiectasia varicose veins (more commonly referred to as spider veins) comprising small clusters of veins, but these do not have the swelling and bulging appearance of trunk veins.


In most cases varicose veins do not require any treatment, but patients with trunk veins may wish them to be dealt with as they find the unsightly appearance upsetting. In cases of pain resulting from varicose veins there are a number of relief and treatment options, usually starting with the use of compression stockings, which can help with a number of circulatory conditons. These are available in a range of colours and grades and can be purchased from pharmacies, or in some cases custom made stockings may be required. Compression stockings can provide relief from pain and discomfort, although there is little evidence to suggest that they stop new varicose veins from developing.


Other potential complications which can arise from this condition include skin discolouration and leg ulcers, although these are comparatively rare. In such instances more drastic treatment may be required, usually involving some kind of surgery. One option is known as litigation and stripping and basically involves the affected vein being tied off and the damaged section removed. This is carried out under general anaesthetic. A less invasive procedure is known as sclerotherapy and involves injecting a chemical or foam into the varicose vein, scarring and sealing it. This can be done with a local anaesthetic.