What are varicose veins?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Varicose veins are larger, bulging veins near the surface of your skin. They are usually found in your legs or feet. Varicose veins may cause pain but usually are just an eye sore to those that have them. They are treatable.


Dr. Michael L. Schwartz, MD
Vascular Surgeon

Varicose veins are abnormal, dilated veins. Varicose veins usually develop in the legs.

Dr. John T. Morris, DO
Vascular Surgeon

Varicose veins are bulging veins under the skin usually located in the legs. Spider veins are a special subset of varicose veins that are smaller and form within the skin. Varicose veins and venous dysfunction affect 25 percent of the population. It is important to know the causes and symptoms of varicose veins and what potential treatment options are available.

Valves in your veins help coordinate blood flow to the heart. Valve dysfunction causes blood to pool, leading to increased venous pressure and vein enlargement over time. The symptoms of varicose veins include swelling, discomfort, heaviness, skin discoloration, ulceration, itching and cramping. Diagnosis includes an examination and vein ultrasound performed in the office at your initial visit.

Varicose veins aren't just ugly—they can really hurt! In this video, vascular surgeon Dr. Steve Elias gives the lowdown on what varicose veins are and why they pop up in the first place.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Varicose veins are enlarged, twisted veins that develop in the legs and ankles as a result of circulation problems. They are typically visible just beneath the surface of the skin.

Varicose veins are enlarged blood vessels visible near the surface of the skin, usually in the legs. They are caused by improperly functioning valves in blood vessels that allow blood to pool in the veins, which stretches the veins out and makes them more visible through the surface of the skin. In some cases, the condition may be associated with pain and swelling in the ankles. Pregnancy and standing for long periods of time increase the risk of varicose veins.

Dr. Arthur W. Perry, MD
Plastic Surgeon

Varicose veins are caused by diseased valves in the large veins of the legs. They are not just cosmetic problems. In fact, they are medical problems. True varicose veins can cause pain, swelling, ulcerations—and painful blood clots. A full examination of the leg and thigh veins is necessary before beginning any treatment. Often there is an underlying problem with the vein that connects the deep and superficial veins. It must be dealt with in order to prevent recurrence.

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Varicose veins occur when veins stop functioning properly. Healthy, strong valves in veins have a one-way function, with blood flowing toward the heart from the body. Weak valves, such as those in varicose veins, prevent normal, upward blood flow, causing blood to pool in the vein below the weak valve. This accumulation of blood creates excessive pressure, causing the veins to enlarge and distend, often producing pressure, swelling and pain.

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Nearly one in every two adults 50 years or older develops varicose veins, which usually appear as swollen, twisted clumps of blue or purple blood vessels near the surface of the skin in the legs or pelvis. The condition is most common among women and older adults, but obesity, standing on the job, personal or family history of venous disease, and hormonal changes before and after pregnancy increase the risk for developing varicose veins.

Dr. Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine Specialist

Varicose veins are enlarged, dilated, tortuous, superficial veins in the legs. Veins are fairly frail structures. Defects in the wall of a vein lead to dilation of the vein and damage to the valves. Normally, these valves prevent blood from backing up, but when the valves become damaged, blood pools and causes the bulging veins known as varicose veins.

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Family Practitioner

Varicose veins are enlarged veins that can be blue, red or flesh-colored. They often look like cords and appear twisted and bulging. They can be swollen and raised above the surface of the skin. Varicose veins are often found on the thighs, backs of the calves, or the inside of the leg. During pregnancy, varicose veins can form around the vagina and buttocks.

Spider veins are like varicose veins but smaller. They also are closer to the surface of the skin than varicose veins. Often, they are red or blue. They can look like tree branches or spiderwebs with their short, jagged lines. They can be found on the legs and face and can cover either a very small or very large area of skin.

Varicose veins are dark, bulging, twisted veins that usually appear on the back of the calf, on the inside of the leg, or in the groin. Varicose veins develop when the specialized, one-way valves that keep blood moving upward through the legs toward the heart deteriorate. In normal veins a series of these valves work together, opening to allow blood to flow upward, then closing to keep the blood from flowing back toward the feet. As the valves deteriorate blood leaks or flows backward and pressure in the vein increases, stretching and dilating the vessel. The backflow of blood can also result in the formation of a blood clot, a condition called deep vein thrombosis.

Varicose veins are abnormal, enlarged and bulging veins near the surface of the skin, usually seen in the legs and feet. The can cause symptoms such as pain, burning, itching and heaviness or fatigue of the legs.

Normally veins have valves that ensure one-way flow of blood in the veins out of the legs and towards the heart. If the valves become weakened or damaged, blood can reflux or back up in the veins and this causes increased pressure in the veins, which then become enlarged and twisty in appearance.

Varicose veins that cause symptoms can be treated in various ways, often with minimally invasive techniques in a physician's office.

Dr. Cheryl H. Hoffman, MD
Vascular & Interventional Radiologist

Varicose veins are veins greater than or equal to 4 millimeters (mm) in diameter.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.