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Varicose Veins

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Varicose veins are enlarged veins that are swollen and raised above the surface of the skin. They can be dark purple or blue, and look twisted and bulging. Varicose veins are commonly found on the backs of the calves or on the inside of the leg. They develop when valves in the veins that allow blood to flow toward the heart stop working properly. As a result, blood pools in the veins and causes them to get larger.

Varicose veins affect 1 out of 2 people over age 50. They are more common in women than men. Hemorrhoids are a type of varicose vein. Spider veins are like varicose veins, but they are smaller.

What Causes Varicose Veins?

More women suffer from varicose veins than men do.  There are a number of reasons varicose veins may form, including:

  • Standing for extended periods of time
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Hereditary factors (if your mother had varicose veins, there is a likelihood you will too!)
  • Hormonal changes experienced during menopause
  • History of previous vein diseases


  • Fullness, heaviness, aching, and sometimes pain in the legs
  • Visible, enlarged veins
  • Mild swelling of ankles
  • Brown discoloration of the skin at the ankles
  • Skin ulcers near the ankle (this is more often seen in severe cases)

Exams and Tests

The diagnosis is mainly based on the appearance of the leg veins when you are standing or seated with the legs dangling.

At times a physician may order a duplex ultrasound exam of the extremity to see blood flow in the veins, and to rule out other disorders of the legs (such as a blood clot). Rarely, an angiogram of the legs may be performed to rule out other disorders.

Varicose Veins Treatment

Treatments are available for varicose veins. Many of them are simple things you can start right now.

  • Elevate your legs as much as possible. If you can take half-hour breaks during the day to rest, do it. It is important to raise your legs up above the level of your heart to get the maximum effect, and to do this for about a half-hour each time.
  • Wear compression stockings (such as Ted Hose or Jobst stockings). The key is to put them on in the morning before you start walking around and before your veins become more swollen. If you try them and experience worsening pain, especially after you have been walking, remove them and see your health care provider. You may have problems with the blood supply to your legs (the arterial supply, which provides oxygen).
  • If you are overweight, try to lose weight. A healthy diet high in fiber and low in fat and salt can help.
  • Avoid alcohol, which can cause the veins in your legs to dilate.
  • See your health care provider if you have problems such as chronic constipation, urinary retention, or chronic cough. Relieving conditions that are causing you to strain may help with the varicose veins.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing such as girdles or belts.
  • Do not cross your legs when sitting.
  • Walking is good exercise. It can help the muscles force the blood out of the deeper vein system.
  • If you are driving on a trip or working at a desk all day, try to get up and walk around every hour or so to allow the muscles to pump the blood out of the veins.

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