Understanding Varicose Veins

varicose veins

How does blood normally circulate in the veins?

Veins carry blood back to the heart and lungs. When we are standing, blood circulates against the force of gravity. The venous circulation largely depends on calf and thigh muscle contraction to pump blood and this is why walking helps the circulation. Multiple small valves in leg veins normally prevent blood from returning down the vein down under the force of gravity.

Surface and deep veins are connected in the thigh and calf through communicating veins called perforators. Most of the normal circulation is through the deep veins. Two large surface veins join the deep veins – the Great Saphenous extending from the groin to the ankle and the Small Saphenous extending from the back of the knee to the ankle.


What are varicose, reticular and spider veins?

“Varicose veins” are large surface veins that bulge above the skin surface.

“Reticular veins” are smaller blue veins that do not protrude.

“Spider veins” or “telangiectases” are tiny short unconnected or spidery branching vessels.


What causes varicose veins?

For mostly unknown reasons valves in the veins lose their function. Blood initially passes up the vein against gravity, but then falls down and therefore accumulates. This puts more pressure on the thin vein wall and the valve(s) below. The veins stretch and the valves below cannot close properly so that they also become “incompetent”, and blood “refluxes” down the leg.

High pressure within the veins then inevitably causes them to progressively enlarge. This is what we see on the skin surface. Many patients have parents who were also affected so that heredity may be a factor, but this may simply be because the condition is so common.

Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy have not been shown to cause varicose veins.

The cause of reticular and spider veins is not known.


What are the clinical problems?

Varicose disease is common. Although there are no studies describing the prence of varicose veins in the Australian population, the prence in countries with a similar demographic ranges from 6.8 – 39.7% in men and from 24.6 to 39% in women(MSAC 2003). Some patients seek treatment because of appearance.

Symptoms include:

  • Discomfort, throbbing and aching
  • Fatigue/tiredness in the legs
  • Heaviness, cramps, burning or itching
  • Restless legs.
  • Symptoms can occur even with small veins. These symptoms in the legs can be due to other conditions.

Complications include:

  • Swelling
  • Bleeding and surface clots
  • Pigmentation
  • Damage to the skin and fat referred to as lipodermatosclerosis
  • Ulceration.


Specialist Vein Care provides state of the art techniques in the diagnosis and treatment of varicose and spider vein disease. If you would like to find out more information about varicose vein treatment in Melbourne please get in touch with Dr. Ivor Berman to participate in an initial consultation to discuss an assessment of your vein problem.

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Specialist Vein Care in Melbourne
provides state of the art techniques in the diagnosis & treatment of varicose & spider vein diseases