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Are varicose veins dangerous?

Happy older couple playing tennis

Varicose veins, with their often swollen, bulging, purple or red appearance, can naturally cause concerns for many people. But are varicose veins actually dangerous? Read on to learn more about these veins, from the different types and blood clot risks, to when to see your GP, and the minimally invasive laser treatment we offer.

What are varicose veins?

In a healthy vein, blood flows smoothly to your heart and is prevented from flowing backwards by a series of tiny valves. However, sometimes these valves will weaken or become damaged, allowing blood to flow backwards and collect in the vein.

What are the risk factors of varicose veins?

The following factors can increase the chances of you developing varicose veins:

  • If you identify as a female
  • Have a close family member with varicose veins
  • Are overweight
  • Have a job that requires you to stand for long periods of time
  • Are pregnant
  • Are older in age

Where do varicose veins occur?

You can develop varicose veins anywhere in your body. But as standing and walking puts an increased amount of pressure on the veins in your lower body, they commonly develop in your legs, particularly the calves and your feet.

What are the different types of varicose veins?

Our Consultant Vascular surgeons will grade your varicose veins during your initial consultation from one to six. This depends on how large they are, if they bulge above the surface of your skin or if they cause skin damage. Varicose veins come in different sizes and can surprisingly be hidden just under the surface. Big veins do not always cause the biggest problems and smaller varicose veins can also be surprisingly troublesome. Veins are often grouped into:

1. Reticular – these are a red colour and are often grouped together in a network of spider veins
2. Truncal – these are near to the surface of the skin and their branches are thick and knobbly. Many patients find them unsightly and this can result in lower self-confidence but they also cause skin irritation, pain and swelling
3. Thread veins – also known as spider veins, these are small clusters of blue or red veins that can appear on your face or legs. These do not bulge underneath the surface of your skin
4. Hidden - these are arising from the deep central vein in the leg and can be very large but lie just under the surface. They are often the veins that produce bleeding and ulcers and need an ultrasound scan to see them clearly

When should I worry about varicose veins?

With any health concern, if you’re worried, you should get it checked by your GP or another healthcare professional. Varicose veins are rarely a serious condition and do not always require treatment, but they can result in people feeling self-conscious about their appearance and cause pain or discomfort.

Firstly, it’s important to establish if your veins are varicose. Do you have a few of the below symptoms?

  • Aching, heavy and uncomfortable legs
  • Swollen feet and ankles
  • Dry, itchy and thin skin over the affected vein
  • Burning or throbbing in your legs
  • Muscle cramp in your legs, particularly at night

You should speak to your GP if you have irritated and sore skin over the veins, if they’re causing you pain or discomfort and if the aching in your legs is affecting your quality of sleep.

Are varicose veins a sign of blood clots?

Varicose veins can clot but it’s important to be aware of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Varicose veins are stretched like a balloon and they should be only a millimetre or two but some reach a centimetre.

When stretched, the wall of the vein becomes fragile and sometimes clots are formed within the vein, this is called Thrombo-Phlebitis. This clot, just under the surface of the skin, can be very painful. If extensive it can lead to a clot extending into the deep vein – a DVT – which can be very dangerous and life threatening.

What are the treatment options for varicose veins?

At Benenden Hospital, we are one of the largest varicose veins centres in the UK and a centre of excellence (PHIN 2023). Our highly experienced and renowned vascular surgeon, Mr Sweeney, has performed treatments for varicose veins thousands of times - so you can rest assured you’re in expert hands. Your Consultant will discuss your suitability with you after assessing and scanning your varicose veins.

Endovenous Laser Treatment (EVLT)

EVLT is a minimally invasive laser treatment for painful or unsightly varicose veins. Approximately 85% of patients with varicose veins are suitable for EVLT. This treatment typically takes about 30-40 minutes, quickly removing varicose veins while minimising pain and recovery time, so you can return home the same day.

Feel confident in your legs with walk-in, walk-out treatment at Benenden Hospital

There are many ways to book and pay for your varicose vein treatment.

If you self-pay for your treatment, you may want to take advantage of our payment plans offered through our trusted partner, Chrysalis, and spread the cost of your treatment. Or if you have private medical insurance check with your provider to see if you’re covered.

It couldn’t be easier to book your initial consultation with our Consultant Vascular Surgeon - just use our online booking tool.

If you need more information on our varicose vein treatments, complete our online enquiry form, contact us using Livechat or call our Private Patient Team on 01580 363158.

Published on 01 November 2023