What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are blood vessels which have become swollen, enlarged and twisted. They look like blue or purple lumps or bumps on the surface of the skin, usually on the legs.

Types of varicose veins

There are three main types of varicose veins:

  • Trunk varicose veins: these are near to the skin’s surface and have a thick, gnarly appearance.
  • Reticular varicose veins: dark red or purple visible veins, which may be grouped closely together in a network.
  • Telangiectasia varicose veins: these small, visible capillaries are also known as thread veins, or spider veins.

What causes varicose veins?

Varicose veins are caused by defective valves within the vein which prevent blood from circulating properly, causing the vein to become enlarged and misshapen.

There are a number of factors which can increase your likelihood of developing varicose veins, including:

  • Genetics - having a close relative who has varicose veins
  • Being a woman
  • Age - as we get older, our veins begin to lose their natural elasticity
  • Being overweight
  • Standing or sitting for long periods of time every day
  • Pregnancy

How can I prevent varicose veins?

To minimise your chances of developing varicose veins, or to ease the symptoms, try the following:

  • Keep your weight at a healthy level
  • Avoid long periods of standing or sitting still by moving around every 30 minutes or so
  • Get regular exercise to improve circulation

Natural remedies for varicose veins

  • Cypress oil: Cypress oil is believed to help improve circulation and so may alleviate the symptoms of varicose veins. Appy five drops to the affected area and massage twice daily for several weeks, or until you begin to see an improvement.
  • Diet: A poor diet high in caffeine, sugar and alcohol can contribute to weight gain and circulatory problems, exacerbating the symptoms (and likelihood of developing) varicose veins. Eating a healthy diet high in fibre, antioxidants and natural diuretics can help prevent varicose veins developing and alleviate their symptoms.
  • Herbal supplements: Bilberry and horse chestnut extract are believed to have benefits for circulation and water retention, so might help alleviate the discomfort caused by varicose veins.

Treatments for removing varicose veins

Varicose veins can be treated and even removed altogether. First, a practitioner should assess your condition in order to create an appropriate programme of treatments.

Varicose vein removal treatments include:

Endothermal ablation:

This treatment works by using heat energy to seal off the normal veins that are feeding the enlarged, varicose veins. The treatment is performed under local anaesthetic and usually takes less than an hour.


A special foam is injected into the affected vein, causing it to close and preventing blood flow to the varicose vein. You may be required to wear a pressure stocking after treatment to help prevent blood flowing back to the enlarged vein.

Ligation and stripping:

This involves surgically removing the varicose veins and is usually carried out under a general anaesthetic in hospital. You might be required to stay overnight and will need to wear compression stockings for up to a week after surgery.

FAQs about varicose veins

Are varicose veins painful?

Varicose veins can sometimes be painful. Many sufferers complain of aching, cramping and tingling. Some people also suffer from dry, itchy or thin skin in the affected area and swollen feet and ankles.

Are varicose veins dangerous?

Varicose veins are rarely linked to a serious condition and so only really require treatment if they are uncomfortable, or for cosmetic reasons.

Are varicose veins a risk factor for deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?

Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is not directly linked to varicose veins. However, damaged blood vessels can increase your risk of developing DVT and having severe varicose veins can lead to damage of the blood vessels in some cases. Speak to your GP if you believe you are at increased risk of developing DVT and are concerned about your varicose veins.  

Related conditions

Thread veins

Facial thread veins



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