Varicose veins are swollen and enlarged veins – usually blue or dark purple – that usually occur on the legs. They may also be lumpy, bulging or twisted in appearance.
- aching, heavy and uncomfortable legs
- swollen feet and ankles
- muscle cramp in your legs
- dry skin and colour changes in the lower leg
There are several types of varicose veins, such as:
- trunk varicose veins – these are near to the surface of the skin and are thick and knobbly; they are usually visible, often quite long, and can look unpleasant
- reticular varicose veins – these are red and are sometimes grouped close together in a network
- telangiectasia varicose veins – also known as thread veins or spider veins, these are small clusters of blue or red veins that sometimes appear on your face or legs; they are harmless and, unlike trunk varicose veins, do not bulge underneath the surface of the skin
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 collect in the vein, eventually causing it to be swollen and enlarged (varicose).
Certain things can increase your chances of developing varicose veins, such as:
- being overweight
- old age
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. Varicose veins are a common condition, affecting up to 3 in 10 adults. Women are more likely to develop them than men. Research suggests this may be because female hormones tend to relax the walls of veins, making the valves more prone to leaking. Reflexology can help with hormonal balance, and can promote blood flow and improve circulation, all of which are found to relieve the discomfort of varicose of veins and even reduce them.