Varicose veins, or varices in specialist terminology, occur as a result of blood congestion in the superficial leg veins. Defective venous valves are responsible for the congestion. When they are working properly, they prevent the blood from flowing back into the leg veins. Support stockings are used to treat and prevent varicose veins. There are also various surgical treatment options for varicose veins.
The blood must be redirected back into the heart against gravity. Two mechanisms ensure that this also happens. On the one hand, flexing the leg muscles works like a pump on the veins. On the other hand, the valves in the veins (venous valves) prevent the blood from flowing backwards. If these valves are defective and no longer close, the blood flows backwards and congests in the veins. This is known as venous insufficiency or varicosis. As a result, the typical spider veins appear in the small veins. While varicose veins can form in the larger veins.
Frequently, a familial predisposition for connective tissue weakness is the main reason why varicose veins develop. Women are affected by it more frequently than men. A lack of exercise, excessive weight and smoking can facilitate the development of varicose veins as well.
Varicose veins are not difficult to recognise as extended, snake-like and congested veins under the skin. If only small veins are affected, this causes the typical picture of blue mesh which is called spider veins. Varicose veins are common; however, they are not just a cosmetic problem. Sometimes chronic congestion can also cause swelling in the legs with skin changes through to skin ulcers. Varicose veins also increase the risk of venous inflammation (phlebitis) occurring. In this context, deep vein thrombosis can sometimes occur.
Varicose veins are already easy to recognise externally. With further examinations such as an ultrasound or x-ray of the legs with contrast agent (phlebography), the function of the veins can be precisely clarified before any possible surgery.
People who are susceptible to diseases of the leg veins should also wear support stockings as a form of treatment. In addition, they should avoid activity which requires them to stand for extended periods of time. There are different surgical options such as vein stripping or cauterisation to remove varicose veins. You can find out more about these procedures in the varicose vein surgery section.