Varicose Veins – A Visual Guide
Anyone can get varicose veins. They can affect both men and women of all ages. Varicose veins occur more frequently in people who have a strong family history and may worsen with occupations that require prolonged standing. Commonly, varicose veins can affect people between 34 and 64 years of age, and can even be brought on by pregnancy.
Varicose veins can range from small thread-like veins called spider veins (or telangiectasia), to slightly larger blue veins or reticular veins, to large and bulging varicose veins. Varicose veins can affect any part of the leg or pelvic area.
Common varicose vein symptoms are:
- localised pain and aching in legs
- leg fatigue and heaviness
- burning, itching and throbbing
- cramping and restless legs
People with venous disease or problem veins may present with:
- Prominent veins alone – visibly large and bulging varicose veins, smaller thread-like spider veins or reticular veins
- Prominent veins plus symptoms – swelling in the leg or venous ulcers (breakdown in skin around the lower leg or ankle region)
- Symptoms alone – no visible abnormal veins
Skin rashes, small blue vein’s on the feet, skin discoloration and ulcers can also occur. These symptoms can indicate advancing vein problems. Severe venous disease can lead to complications such as eczema, inflammation or even ulceration of the lower legs.
Types of Varicose Veins
Moderate Varicose Veins
These large, dilated, ropey veins that bulge above the skin surface, and are usually blue or green in colour. They no longer serve the primary function of veins, which is to return blood to the heart. Varicose veins can occur alone or with many of the physical manifestations of chronic venous disease. Many patients do not realise they have a complication of venous disease until they see a phlebologist (vein doctor).
Pelvic, Vulval and Pregnancy-Related Varicose Veins
Pregnancy-related varicose veins often appear in the vulval or gluteal region and can extend down the inner thigh and lower leg. The extra pressure a growing baby places on the veins around the ovaries, uterus, and vagina can cause venous insufficiency. Pregnancy-related varicose veins can appear during or following pregnancy.
Severe Varicose Veins / Chronic Venous Disease
Patients with severe venous disease may have signs such as venous eczema (venous dermatitis), swelling in the leg (oedema), discolouration of the skin (hyperpigmentation), thickening of the skin of the lower leg or ankle (lipodermatosclerosis), and localised or extensive break downs of the skin barrier, particularly around the ankle region (venous ulceration). As well as this, patients can experience heaviness, aching and tiredness in the legs. If left untreated, these symptoms are likely to become worse with advancing age.
Spider Veins and Reticular Veins
Spider veins are the tiny red or blue veins that can appear anywhere on the body, but more often on the legs, ankles, face, chest, or abdomen. Spider veins are extremely common. They may appear to be short, seemingly unconnected lines, each about the width of a large hair, or they may resemble a spider web or a tree with branches. In medical terms spider veins are called telangiectasias, and usually occur in association with larger dilated blood vessels (often blue / green in colour) called reticular veins. Often dilated blood vessels cause aching especially with prolonged standing.
Periorbital veins (POV) are often a cause of cosmetic concern for patients. POVs are superficial veins which start at the bridge of the nose and stretch below or above the eye to join venous branches on the lateral forehead and scalp. Under normal circumstances, periorbital veins are barely visible to the human eye.
Lipoedema & Varicose Veins
Lipoedema is a chronic progressive condition characterised by the abnormal and excessive accumulation of the fatty tissue, generally in the lower legs and thighs. Other areas frequently affected by lipoedema include the buttocks, thighs, lower legs and ankles. Varicose vein disease is often present in conjunction with lipoedema and associated mild lymphedema.
Who is affected by varicose veins?
Varicose veins usually run in the family. If one parent has had venous disease you have about a 33% chance of developing vein problems; with both parents this increases to about 90%. Contrary to popular belief, both men and women are affected. It may be noticed earlier in women as symptoms can be exacerbated by pregnancy.
Do I need to treat varicose veins? Isn’t this just cosmetic?
Many patients complain about their varicose veins being ugly – however, we need to be clear, we are dealing with a medical issue that can become worse over time, and lead to severe complications.
How can I prevent varicose veins?
Patients who have varicose veins are predisposed to developing them at birth. The best thing to do to manage them conservatively (in other words, without having any treatment) is to ensure that you get enough rest, eat a healthy diet, and keep your weight down. This will help your overall health, including your veins.
Do you still need those veins?
Varicose veins are no longer serving a useful function to circulation. In fact, when the vein becomes defective, the body develops alternative pathways and bypasses the varicose vein altogether. You will never run out of alternate pathways. When a phlebologist closes down a varicose vein, the circulatory system improves, as do many of the symptoms. The problem veins will not resolve themselves without medical intervention.
How do phlebologists classify the severity of venous disease?
In the past it has been tricky for phlebologists and health professionals to define vein disorders because of the range and severity of symptoms. By creating the CEAP venous disease classification system, discussion of conditions and treatments is standardised across the world. Read more about the CEAP classification system.
How We Treat Varicose Veins
Varicose veins can be treated non-surgically with a combination of Endovenous Laser Ablation and Foam Sclerotherapy. Ultrasound Guided Foam Sclerotherapy is often used to treat moderate varicose veins. Some doctors may also perform Modified Ambulatory Phlebectomy for any larger problem veins.
Medical adhesives like VenaSeal can also be used to treat problem veins. These are medical grade ‘vein glues’ are minimally invasive and are one of the most recent innovations in varicose vein treatment.
Vein Health Medical Clinic’s treatments are safe and effective procedures with a high success rate. These treatments do not require general anaesthetic or hospital admission, and avoid the potential scarring effects of surgery. In the past, an in-hospital stay for surgery was necessary, but now patients can walk-in, have varicose veins treated in less than an hour, and walk out. No downtime from work is required; patients can return to normal duties immediately.
Dr Paraskevas specialises in non-surgical treatment of varicose veins of all levels of severity, and has developed a reputation as a leader in the application of simple and successful techniques to treat varicose veins.
Popular Varicose Vein Articles
Varicose veins are often thought of as a purely cosmetic concern and having treatment for problem veins a bit of vanity. However, left untreated there are a number of serious complications which can occur. You might raise your eyebrows to hear that Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT or blood clots) is one of those possible complications.read more
The skin in the area of a varicose vein can become itchy and irritated and may change colour. If this happens you may have Venous Dermatitis. Our veins are full of one-way valves that help to pump the blood forward around the body and away from our skin.read more
I am often asked by patients if they can travel on a plane after their varicose vein treatment. At Vein Health Medical, there is a very strict protocol in place for plane travel post treatment.read more
Medicare Rebate & Costs
The cost of treating varicose veins depends on severity of the veins as well as which treatment is used. We discuss these costs in detail at your initial consultation.
A Medicare rebate is claimable on all varicose vein procedures, except the most superficial spider veins.