Varicose veins are swollen and enlarged veins that are usually blue or dark purple. They may also be lumpy, bulging or twisted in appearance.
Varicose veins develop when the small valves inside the veins stop working properly. In a healthy vein, blood flows smoothly to the heart. The blood is prevented from flowing backwards by a series of tiny valves that open and close to let blood through. If the valves weaken or are damaged, the blood can flow backwards and can collect in the vein, eventually causing it to be varicose (swollen and enlarged).
How common are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are a very common condition, affecting up to three in 10 adults. Usually, women tend to be more affected than men.
Any vein in the body can become varicose, but they most commonly develop in the legs and feet, particularly in the calves. This is because standing and walking puts extra pressure on the veins in the lower body.
Diagnosing varicose veins
Preventing varicose veins
There is little evidence to suggest that you can stop varicose veins from getting worse, or prevent new ones developing. However, if you already have varicose veins, there are a number of things that you can do that may help to relieve any pain or discomfort.
Sitting or standing still
If you can, avoid sitting or standing still for long periods of time. If you are unable to avoid sitting or standing, make sure that you change position frequently and try to move around at least once every 30 minutes.
Do not cross your legs because this can make your symptoms worse.
Take regular breaks
If possible, take regular breaks throughout the day. Try also to keep your legs raised while you are resting, because this will help to improve blood flow.
Ideally, raise your legs above the level of your heart. When resting, you may find that lying down and placing your legs on three or four stacked pillows will help to relieve any pain and discomfort.
Regular exercise is a great way of keeping your legs active and it will help to improve your circulation.
Exercise will also enable you to maintain a healthy weight, help prevent serious health conditions, such as coronary heart disease, as well as improving your overall general health and fitness.