Unattractive dark blue or purple bulges on your calves of the inside of your legs are a sign that you have varicose veins. They’re fairly common, though experts don’t agree on how many people are affected: according to the NHS, up to three in 10 adults have varicose veins. It’s also thought that varicose veins run in families – though in some cases, there may not be any medical or genetic reason why they develop.
Meanwhile, in addition to not looking very attractive, sometimes larger varicose veins can also cause other symptoms, including discomfort, aches, cramps, itching, dry skin and swollen ankles and feet.
By Lamberts Informa
The veins in the leg have a difficult job to do in transporting blood back up to the heart, defying gravity. There are deep leg veins that aren’t visible on the surface of the skin – these pass through the muscles, which squeeze the deep veins while your legs move – and veins that run under the skin, called superficial veins.
Then there are lots of smaller veins running from the superficial veins and into the deep veins.
As well as the muscles squeezing the deep veins and helping the blood to push through them, there are valves inside all three types of veins that stop the blood from flowing back down towards the ankles. However, if a valve in a superficial vein becomes weakened or damaged, blood can flow backwards and cause extra pressure on the vein, stretching it and making it wider and, in time, swollen. This can lead to the development of varicose veins, as well as much smaller thread veins and spider veins.
Thankfully the majority of people who have varicose veins don’t go on to develop any related complications. However, in a small number of cases, the following may develop several years after varicose veins appear:
If you’re affected by the signs of any of these complications, see your GP as soon as possible.
While some people may develop varicose veins for no obvious reason, there are several risk factors that may affect your chances, including the following:
Being female: Women are thought to be more likely to have varicose veins than men because of the female hormones they produce. This can relax the walls of your veins and make leakage more likely.
Occasionally, an underlying medical condition could cause varicose veins to develop, such as an injury to or thrombosis in a deep leg vein, a swelling or tumour in the pelvis or a blood vessel abnormality.
There may not be a way to prevent varicose veins completely, but there are several things you can do to help stop them getting worse or to prevent or delay new ones forming.
In many cases, varicose veins don’t need to be treated. But if you are also experiencing pain and discomfort, your GP may recommend different treatments.
If you’re not eligible for varicose vein treatment on the NHS – or if you prefer to take a more natural approach – there are some alternative remedies you can try:
(i) Vanscheidt W, Jost V, Wolna P, et al. Efficacy and safety of a Butcher’s broom preparation (Ruscus aculeatus L. extract) compared to placebo in patients suffering from chronic venous insufficiency. Arzneimittelforschung. 2002;52(4):243-250.Lucker P, Jost V, Wolna P, et al. Efficacy and safety of ruscus extract compared to placebo in patients suffering from chronic venous insufficiency [abstract]. Phytomedicine. 2000;7(suppl 2):P-155.
(ii) Sirtori CR. Aescin: pharmacology, pharmacokinetics and therapeutic profile. Pharmacol Res. 2001;44:183-193.
(iii) Bagchi D, Sen CK, Bagchi M, Atalay M. Anti-angiogenic, antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties of a novel anthocyanin-rich berry extract formula. Biochemistry (Mosc). 2004 Jan;69(1):75-80.
(iv) Petruzzellis V, Troccoli T, Candiani C, et al. Oxerutins (Venoruton): efficacy in chronic venous insufficiency—a double-blind, randomized, controlled study. Angiology. 2002;53:257-263. Incandela L, Belcaro G, Renton S, et al. HR (Paroven, Venoruton; 0-(beta-hydroxyethyl)-rutosides) in venous hypertensive microangiopathy: A prospective, placebo-controlled, randomized trial. J CardiovascPharmacolTher. 2002;7(Suppl 1):S7-S10.