Varicose veins are swollen blood vessels that appear just under your skin’s surface in your lower body. When your vein walls are weak and your valves aren’t working right, blood backs up in your vein. This causes the blue and purple bulges you see on your legs, feet or ankles. Several treatment options can work, but varicose veins can return.
Varicose veins are swollen, twisted blood vessels that bulge just under your skin’s surface. These blue or purple bulges usually appear in your legs, feet and ankles. They can be painful or itchy. Spider veins, which may surround varicose veins, are smaller red or purple lines that appear close to your skin’s surface.
Although they can be unsightly and uncomfortable, varicose veins aren’t dangerous for most people. In some cases, severe varicose veins can lead to serious health problems, such as blood clots. You can relieve most varicose vein symptoms at home or your healthcare provider can treat them with injections, laser therapy or surgery.
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Varicose veins and spider veins are both types of venous disease, but they look different. Spider veins are smaller and thinner than varicose veins. They look like red or blue spider webs or branches of a tree, and they are close to the skin’s surface.
Spider veins aren’t usually painful. They can appear anywhere on your body, most often behind your knee, on your feet or on your face. Varicose veins usually appear on your feet and legs.
Anyone can develop varicose veins. Certain factors increase your chances of developing varicose veins, including:
Varicose veins are very common. Around 1/3 of all adults have varicose veins. They are more common in people assigned female at birth than in people assigned male at birth.
The most recognizable sign of varicose veins is a gnarled, blue or purple vein just under your skin’s surface. Symptoms include:
Most often, varicose veins develop on the lower half of your body, usually on your calves, ankles and feet. They can also develop in the pelvic area (pelvic congestion syndrome), especially in people who have had children. Varicose veins in the testicles (varicocele) can lead to infertility.
Varicose veins occur when the walls of your veins weaken. As blood pressure in your vein increases, the weakened walls allow your vein to get bigger. As your vein stretches, the valves that keep blood moving in one direction in your vein can’t work like they should. Sluggish blood backs up or pools in your vein, causing your vein to swell, bulge and twist.
Vein walls and valves can become weak for several reasons, including:
Varicose veins are close to the surface of your skin and easy to see. Healthcare providers can diagnose the condition during a physical examination. They’ll feel your veins and examine them while you’re sitting and standing.
To see detailed images of your veins and check for complications, your provider may recommend an ultrasound. This safe, painless test uses sound waves to produce pictures of tissues inside your body. Ultrasounds can show blood clots and how your valves are working.
Although there isn’t a cure for varicose veins, these treatments can reduce their appearance and relieve discomfort:
Half of the people who have surgical stripping get varicose veins again within five years, and varicose veins can happen again after endovenous ablation as well.
Potential side effects of these treatments include:
Sclerotherapy can cause side effects that include:
With sclerotherapy, new varicose veins can happen and need treatment.
You may not be able to prevent varicose veins. You can reduce your chances of developing them by living an active, healthy lifestyle. Healthcare providers recommend many of the same measures to prevent and treat varicose veins:
Usually, varicose veins aren’t dangerous and don’t cause long-term health problems. Most people with the condition are concerned with the way varicose veins look. They may experience discomfort but don’t develop complications.
Most of the time, varicose veins that happen while you’re pregnant go away on their own within two or three weeks after you have your baby. For other people, varicose veins may keep coming back after treatment.
Varicose veins can cause ulcers (open sores), bleeding and skin discoloration if left untreated. Severe varicose veins may be a sign of chronic venous insufficiency. This condition affects your veins’ ability to pump blood to your heart.
People who have varicose veins may be more likely to develop blood clots. It’s important to tell your healthcare provider about varicose veins. Your provider should evaluate and monitor you for clotting disorders such as:
Although treatments are effective, varicose veins can return. They’re more likely to come back in people who become pregnant after treatment. You have a higher chance of varicose veins reappearing if you have obesity or have a sedentary lifestyle.
Although varicose veins aren’t usually dangerous, you should visit your healthcare provider for an exam. If you’re concerned about how varicose veins look, or if they’re uncomfortable, treatments can help. You should see your provider as soon as possible if the skin or veins are:
Millions of people live with varicose veins. For most people, varicose veins don’t cause serious health problems. Lifestyle changes and at-home remedies can relieve symptoms and prevent them from getting worse. Talk to your healthcare provider about safe, minimally invasive treatments that can reduce pain and improve the appearance of varicose veins.
Call 911 if you have a varicose vein that’s bleeding heavily.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
You’re not alone in dealing with varicose veins. Many people have them and don’t have complications from them. However, if varicose veins bother you, you can try home treatments that may help. Or you can ask your healthcare provider about different treatments that are available. Just keep in mind that varicose veins can happen again, even after treatment. Talk to your provider about which treatment is best for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/29/2021.
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