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What Are Varicose Veins?

Veins contain valves which aid the return of blood to the heart. They are thin walled vessels that when put under constant pressure and unsupported by surrounding tissues become stretched.

In people with weak valves gravity forces the blood back down putting pressure on the vein. The blood then tends to accumulate in the pouched area of the vein, causing it to swell forcing fluid into the surrounding tissue.

Any vein can be affected by varicosities, such as the anal veins leading to haemorrhoids, the veins at the end of the oesophagus in cases of liver cirrhosis. Veins close to the surface of the legs are susceptible to varicosities with up to 50% of adults affected by enlarged veins.

What causes varicose veins?

Factors which contribute to the problem, include standing for long hours, constipation, heavy lifting, pregnancy, heredity and aging.

Treatment of varicose veins

Treatment is aimed toward aiding return of venous blood upwards. This could involve ;

  • Frequent periods of rest with elevation of the lower limbs.
  • External pressure with elastic stockings or bandages.
  • Intravenous injection of chemicals that stop the blood from flowing into the veins.
  • Surgery, in which the superficial leg veins are stripped away.


The removal of superficial veins can lead to decreased venous return in the legs and therefore symptoms of swelling and heaviness. There may be a consequent danger of deep venous thrombosis. Other complications could also include ;

  • Varicose ulcers – this is ulceration of the leg above the ankle.
  • Varicose eczema – itching, dryness and discolouration of the leg.
  • Thrombophlebitis – pain, redness and swelling of the superficial veins.
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