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Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are swollen, twisted veins that you can see just under the surface of the skin. These veins usually occur in the legs, but they also can form in other parts of the body.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)

About Varicose Veins

Varicose (VAR-i-kos) veins are swollen, twisted veins that you can see just under the surface of the skin. These veins usually occur in the legs, but they also can form in other parts of the body.

Varicose veins are a common condition. They usually cause few signs and symptoms. Sometimes varicose veins cause mild to moderate pain, blood clots, skin ulcers (sores), or other problems.


Veins are blood vessels that carry blood from your body's tissues to your heart. Your heart pumps the blood to your lungs to pick up oxygen. The oxygen-rich blood then is pumped to your body through blood vessels called arteries.

From your arteries, the blood flows through tiny blood vessels called capillaries, where it gives up its oxygen to the body's tissues. Your blood then returns to your heart through your veins to pick up more oxygen. For more information about blood flow, go to the Health Topics... Read more about Varicose Veins

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Varicose Veins in the Legs: The Diagnosis and Management of Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are dilated, often palpable subcutaneous veins with reversed blood flow, most commonly found in the legs. Estimates of the prevalence of varicose veins vary. Visible varicose veins in the lower limbs are estimated to affect at least a third of the population. There is little reliable information available in the literature on the proportion of people with varicose veins who progress to venous ulceration. One study reported that 28.6% of those who had visible varicose veins without oedema or other complications progressed to more serious venous disease after 6.6 years.83 However there was no information about the numbers progressing to ulceration. Other data on the lifetime prevalence of varicose veins estimate that approximately 3–6% of people who have varicose veins in their lifetime will develop venous ulcers.71 Risk factors for developing varicose veins are unclear although prevalence rises with age and they often develop during pregnancy. In some people varicose veins are asymptomatic or cause only mild symptoms, but in others they cause pain, aching or itching and can have a significant effect on their quality of life. Varicose veins may become more severe over time and can lead to complications such as changes in skin pigmentation, eczema, superficial thrombophlebitis, bleeding, loss of subcutaneous tissue, lipodermatosclerosis or venous ulceration.

Endovascular Thermal Ablation Technologies for Treatment of Varicose Veins: A Review of Clinical Effectiveness, Safety, Cost-Effectiveness and Guidelines – An Update [Internet]

Varicose veins are enlarged tortuous superficial veins at least 3mm in diameter that usually affect the great (GSV) and small (SSV) saphenous veins in the lower limbs. Varicose veins are caused by decreased elasticity of the vein wall and poorly functioning valves within the vein, resulting in blood pooling in the veins and vein enlargement. The symptoms of varicose veins can range in severity from occasional discomfort to severe ulceration of the skin. Approximately 10 to 40% of Western populations have varicose veins, and varicosities can cause considerable disability, resulting in decreased quality of life and loss of work days. If left untreated, varicose veins can progress to chronic venous insufficiency, which increases the likelihood of tissue damage and development of venous stasis ulcers.

Sclerotherapy for leg varicose veins

Bibliographic details: Corabian P, Harstall C.  Sclerotherapy for leg varicose veins. Edmonton, AB, Canada: Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. Information Paper; IP 19. 2004 Available from: http://www.ihe.ca/hta/publications.html?Category=Information%20Papers

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Summaries for consumers

Varicose veins: What are the advantages and disadvantages of sclerotherapy?

Sclerotherapy, which is used to close off varicose veins, has fewer complications than surgery. But it is also less effective.

Varicose veins: Surgery: What results can be expected?

Different types of surgery are available for removing varicose veins and relieving their symptoms, but new varicose veins can sometimes grow back. It usually takes about one to three weeks to fully recover from the operation.

Varicose veins: Surgical and non-surgical treatment options

Varicose veins are one of the most common reasons for having surgery, but that is not the only way to relieve symptoms. Here we explain the main options, and let you know when swollen legs might be a sign of something other than varicose veins.Compression stockings are the most common self-treatment option. The idea behind this is that the hosiery helps the muscles push on the veins to help keep the blood flowing. There has not yet been enough research to tell whether hosiery helps, when it helps, and what kinds of socks are the most effective. This does not mean that wearing these types of socks has no benefit – just that more research is needed on this subject.

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Terms to know

A blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to tissues and organs in the body.
A tissue with red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and other substances suspended in fluid called plasma. Blood takes oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, and carries away wastes.
Blood Vessels
Tubes that carry blood to and from all parts of the body. The three main types of blood vessels are arteries, capillaries, and veins.
The smallest of the body's blood vessels. Oxygen and glucose pass through capillary walls and enter the cells. Waste products such as carbon dioxide pass back from the cells into the blood through capillaries.
The hollow, muscular organ that maintains the circulation of the blood.
One of a pair of organs in the chest that supplies the body with oxygen, and removes carbon dioxide from the body.
A colorless, odorless gas. It is needed for animal and plant life. Oxygen that is breathed in enters the blood from the lungs and travels to the tissues.

More about Varicose Veins

Photo of an adult woman

Also called: Phlebectasia, Varices, Uneven venous ectasia, Varicosities, Venous ectasia, VV, VVs

Other terms to know: See all 7
Arteries, Blood, Blood Vessels

Related articles:
How the Heart Works
How Blood Circulation Works

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