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Varicose veins


Varicose veins are swollen, irregular shaped veins that often develop in the legs, particularly on the calves. They occur when the vein wall weakens, causing the vein to dilate (widen). If this happens, valves in the veins that prevent blood flowing in the wrong direction (back down your legs) may stop working properly and affect circulation.

Varicose veins, in the legs, affect about 30% of adults at some point in their life. They tend to be more common in older women. Varicose veins usually develop gradually, and may run in families. Although varicose veins can appear unsightly, and are sometimes painful, they do not usually cause any serious health problems. There are three types of varicose veins:

  • Trunk varicose veins are near to the surface of the skin, and are thick and knobbly. They are usually visible, are often quite long, and they can be unsightly.
  • Reticular varicose veins are red and are sometimes grouped close together in a network.
  • Telangiectasia varicose veins are also known as thread or spider veins, and are small clusters of blue, or red, veins that sometimes appear on your face or legs. They are harmless, and unlike trunk varicose veins, they do not bulge underneath the surface of the skin.

As well as developing in the legs, varicose veins sometimes develop in the internal organs, such as in the lower end of the gullet (oesophageal varices) and in the small veins next to the testicles (varicocele). Haemorrhoids are varicose veins around the anus.

Continue to the next section "Symptoms"

Last updated on 29 November 2007

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