By Yolanda Smith, BPharm
The characteristic appearance of varicose veins, dark in colour and bulging like cords along the legs, is often the most concerning aspect for patients with this condition. However, some patients also experience significant pain and discomfort that can prevent them from partaking in daily activities as usual.
Varicose veins have a very distinctive look and can be recognised before any symptoms become evident in most cases. The distinctive appearance includes visible veins that are dark purple or blue in colour, which twist and bulge like cords over the affected area.
The most common location for varicose veins to present is on the legs, usually on the back of the calf or inside the legs. However, some patients experience varicose veins that affect other areas of the body, such as the:
Spider veins are a similar condition that may often be confused with varicose veins due to the similarity in appearance and symptoms. However, they can be distinguished by their appearance, which is usually smaller, red or blue in colour and closer to the surface of the skin.
Although some patients with varicose veins do not note any specific symptoms, some people affected by the condition experience significant pain or discomfort in the area. Symptoms of varicose veins may include:
- Heavy feeling
- Muscle cramping
- Oedema of the feet and ankles
- Thin and itchy skin
Although it is normal for symptoms of discomfort associated with varicose veins to vary in intensity on a daily basis, some activities and situations are linked to worsening of symptoms.
Most notably, long periods remaining stationary are thought to bring about some symptoms. Both sitting and standing positions can be responsible for this and the important aspect tends to be regular movements to promote blood flow throughout the circulatory system and, in particular, the legs.
Additionally, many patients with varicose veins find that the uncomfortable symptoms commence or increase in severity during warm weather. This is likely due to the effect heat has on blood circulation in the body and the natural tendency to move blood flow to the outside of the body as a method of temperature regulation.
Upon consideration of the triggers that are likely to worsen symptoms of varicose veins, it becomes evident that there are certain behavioural alterations that can be made to manage the associated symptoms.
For example, taking regular breaks from stationary activities such as office work to walk around can help to move the blood around the body. Additionally, recommending patients to raise their legs into a comfortable position may help to redistribute the blood and decrease the pressure on the area.
Compression stockings are also a worthwhile idea for individuals who frequently experience problems or are expecting to spend a long time stationary, such as on an aeroplane.
Rarely, patients may be affected by complications of varicose veins, which carry more severe consequences. These may include:
- Dermatitis with red, itchy skin in the affected area
- Skin ulcers around the ankle, indicative of vascular disease
- Bleeding due to excessive itching of the veins
- Phlebitis with inflammation of the veins
- Deep Vein Thrombosis with a clot forming that may form an embolism
Last Updated: Jul 20, 2015