This website is for informational use only and does not provide any medical advice.

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are bloated, twisted veins that can be seen just under the skin. Any vein may become varicose but it most commonly occurs in the legs. Hemorrhoids are also a type of varicose vein.

Veins are like a one-way street carrying blood toward the heart. When the valves within the veins become damaged or weak, blood can back up and pool in the veins. This causes the veins to swell, which can lead to varicose veins.


Varicose veins are very common. You are more at risk if you are older, a female, obese, don’t exercise or have a family history. They can also be more common in pregnancy.

The signs and symptoms of varicose veins include:

  • Discolored skin in the area around the varicose vein
  • Itchy legs, especially on the lower leg and ankle. Sometimes this symptom is incorrectly diagnosed as dry skin
  • Large veins that you can see just under the surface of your skin
  • Mild swelling of your ankles and feet
  • Painful, achy or “heavy” legs
  • Throbbing or cramping in your legs

Varicose veins can cause dermatitis, an itchy rash. Dermatitis can cause bleeding or skin ulcers (sores) if the skin is scratched or irritated.

Superficial thrombophlebitis, a blood clot in a vein close to the surface of the skin, can also be caused by varicose veins. This type of blood clot may cause pain and other problems in the affected area.


Varicose veins are diagnosed by a physical examination by a physician. To check for varicose veins in your legs, your doctor will look at your legs while you’re standing or sitting with your legs dangling.

Your doctor may recommend duplex ultrasound to check blood flow in your veins and to look for blood clots. During this test, a handheld device will be placed on your body and passed back and forth over the affected area. The device sends and receives sound waves. A computer will convert the sound waves into a picture of the blood flow in your arteries and veins.

Although it is not very common, your doctor may recommend an angiogram to get a more detailed look at the blood flow through your veins. For this procedure, dye is injected into your veins. The dye outlines your veins on x-ray images.