All About Varicose Veins

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are twisted and swollen veins that usually appear on the legs and feet. They are a form of vein disease or Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI)

Causes

Veins allow blood to flow back to your heart, ready to be oxygenated and pumped back around the body. To ensure that it only flows in the right direction, there’s a series of tiny valves inside each vein. Working a bit like a series of gates in a tunnel, these valves close behind the moving blood, to stop it flowing back down through the body

When the valves inside the veins get damaged, blood circulation becomes restricted and it can start flowing back towards the lower parts of the body. This pooling of blood puts our veins under increased pressure and leads to the sudden or gradual appearance of varicose veins (large ‘trunk’ and smaller ‘reticular’ types) and thread or spider veins (‘telangiectasia’ varicose veins). This is why it’s important to keep an eye on changes in your skin

Varicose veins will affect up to 20 million people in the UK at some point, maybe even your favourite celebrities

Are varicose veins dangerous?

When blood gets pooled in your veins, it can lead to a range of symptoms and related complications. Varicose veins can make the skin dry and itchy and can make our legs feel heavy or tired. They can cause chronic pain and become swollen. If the problem persists, they can also have a profound knock-on effect on other aspects of health and wellbeing: affecting how we exercise or socialise, for example

But Chronic Venous Insufficiency is a progressive disease: if left untreated altogether, varicose veins can ultimately cause a range of far more serious and lasting problems

If the skin gets broken, for instance, it can take a long time for the bleeding to stop or for these wounds to heal. And if ulcers like these persist, there is a risk of infection and other serious complications like further infection in the bloodstream (septicaemia) or, in one of the worst case scenarios, limb loss

In addition, if the blood in the veins starts to clot, this can lead not just to extremely painful swelling (called phlebitis), but to potentially fatal complications like Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

DVT is associated with chronic pain, ulcers and swelling, but it also carries the risk that a blood clot ends up blocking part of your lungs (a ‘pulmonary embolism’). This blockage can cause permanent lung damage and can, in turn, trigger a heart attack and potentially death

Varicose vein symptoms

At the start of the disease cycle, you may develop mild symptoms such as itchy, burning or throbbing veins, a tingling sensation in the feet and legs, and sometimes even cramps. Your veins may then start bulging, aching and feeling warm to the touch. If left unattended, more serious (and fully preventable) symptoms such as bleeding may occur. Click here for a more extensive list of symptoms

Where varicose veins appear

When we think of varicose veins, we usually think of veins in the legs. However, they also frequently appear in your feet, ankles, heels and hands, and less commonly in the face (especially the nose), arms, wrist, abdomen, groin or genital area (penis, scrotum sack, foreskin, testicles, vagina, labia minora) and anus

Risk factors

Put simply, any of us can get varicose veins. One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding varicose veins is that their occurrence is limited to women and people over 40, and that younger people are safe. Though less common, men and people in their 30s, or even 20s, are also vulnerable

Pregnant women (although they often subside following childbirth), overweight people and those with a relative who also suffers from varicose veins are at increased risk. The genetic aspect of varicose veins is of critical importance, as we can often inherit them

How to get rid of varicose veins

It's possible to manage living with varicose veins by changing what you eat, how often you exercise, and giving up smoking. However, it's not possible to reverse the development of varicose veins without some form of treatment. The evidence for lifestyle changes is very weak

The latest clinical evidence clearly shows that non-invasive procedures using radiofrequency technology deliver by far the best outcomes for the majority of patients. They are precise and effective, offering lasting relief from symptoms while minimising possible downsides of treatment (like post-op pain and scarring)

Frequently Asked Questions

Can varicose veins be treated with natural, at-home remedies?

If you develop varicose veins, you will most likely encounter information on the web claiming that certain natural, at-home remedies can fully cure varicose veins. While some may have a “calming” effect, the only way to truly get rid of varicose veins is by seeking medical treatment

Below is a list of popular (though not necessarily effective or recommended) home remedies for varicose veins:

Arnica cream, witch hazel, olive oil, red vine leaf, taking a hot bath, laying down on a hot tub, essential oils, certain types of massage, apple cider vinegar, hemorrhoid cream, aspirin, diosmin, ice or icing, horse chestnut, cypress oil, bay leaf, herbal supplements, turmeric, vicks vaporub and helichrysum oil

Can I get a tattoo over varicose veins?

Yes, in theory you can. However, it's not recommended because tattoos can increase the risk of infection and/or ulceration, which in turn can lead to further medical complications

Can I fly with varicose veins?

Yes. However, having varicose veins increases risk of thrombosis and flying can increase that risk further. It is possible to mitigate these risks by either wearing compression stockings or seeking medical treatment

Can varicose veins cause erectile dysfunction or infertility?

Varicose veins can also appear in the scrotum. When this happens, they are known as ‘varicocele’ and they have been associated with erectile dysfunction. Varicose veins in the legs, on the other hand, are not known to affect male reproductive health

Can varicose veins cause cancer?

There is no association between having varicose veins and cancer. However, severe vein disease may lead to ulceration in the foot and ankle, and there is some evidence that cancerous changes have occurred in some patients. Presently, it has not been possible to confirm causality or if it may just be coincidental

Do varicose veins hurt when touched?

If your varicose veins are left untreated and venous disease is allowed to progress, it is possible to experience pain in the affected areas when touched

Can varicose veins be prevented with exercise or diet?

Adding certain exercises to our daily routines can certainly help prevent varicose veins from worsening, though they cannot prevent them altogether nor substitute treatment. Running, walking, swimming and yoga are some of the most popular options for patients showing mild symptoms of varicose veins

If you regularly go to the gym and practice weightlifting, you may want to change your workout regime as this may worsen your symptoms of varicose veins

Certain foods such as avocado, tomato, beetroot, chia seeds and wild berries are also known to improve vein health. However, they cannot substitute medical treatment and, in the best case scenario, only contribute to a delay in the worsening of symptoms, rather than preventing them

Where to find us

We're pleased to be able to provide our world-class varicose vein treatment in a variety of places throughout the United Kingdom. Learn more about your treatment options, including endovenous radio-frequency ablation (EVRF) and foam sclerotherapy, at the clinic closest to you

Greater London Area

150 Harley Street
London W1G 7LQ

Thames Valley Area

The Bridge Clinic, The Gatehouse
156-160 Bridge Road
Maidenhead SL6 8DG

North West Area

Pall Mall Medical Centre
61 King Street
Manchester M2 4PD