Varicose Veins

There are no accurate figures for the number of people with varicose veins. Some studies suggest that 3 in 100 people suffer from them at some time in their lives. Other studies suggest that this figure could be much higher. Most people with varicose veins do not have an underlying disease and they usually occur for no apparent reason.

Varicose veins do not cause symptoms or complications in most cases, although some people find them unsightly. If treatment is advised, or wanted for cosmetic reasons, a procedure to seal them off is used. There are several procedures available: heat, lasers or chemicals injected into the veins. These methods have largely replaced the old-fashioned surgical methods such as stripping the veins out.

Understanding normal leg veins

Veins are blood vessels which take blood back to the heart. Blood flows up the leg veins, into larger veins and towards the heart.

There are three types of veins in the legs:

  • Superficial veins, which are the ones just below the skin surface. You can often see or feel the larger superficial veins. The superficial leg veins are the ones that may develop into varicose veins.
  • Deep leg veins, which pass through the muscles. You cannot see or feel these.
  • Many small communicating (perforator) veins, which take blood from the superficial veins into the deep veins.

There are one-way valves at intervals inside the larger veins. These valves prevent blood flowing back in the wrong direction. When we stand there is quite a height of blood between the heart and legs. Gravity tends to pull the blood back down but is prevented from doing so by the vein valves and by the normal flow of blood towards the heart.