What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are swollen and enlarged veins (usually in the legs) that are blue or purple in appearance. They might also look lumpy or bulging.
They develop as a result of the walls in the veins stretching and losing their elasticity which leads to weakened or damaged valves in the veins.
Instead of simply opening and closing to let blood through, the weakened valves allow blood to flow backwards which means it collects or “pools” in the vein, eventually making it enlarged and swollen and therefore varicose.
Varicose veins are most common in the legs and feet because the veins in these areas are under greater pressure from standing and walking. Blood also has to struggle against the effects of gravity in order to return to the heart.
Are varicose veins painful?
Varicose veins don't hurt for everyone but in some people, they are uncomfortable and even painful..
They can make legs feel heavy so a 10-minute walk can seem like a 10-hour walk even for a fit person.
Throbbing can be felt (and even seen through thin clothing) and the skin can become dry and itchy around the affected vein.
Those who experience discomfort because of their varicose veins often find that the pain is worse at nighttime and they might even be woken up by it.
Warm weather or extended periods of standing also aggravate the pain.
Are varicose veins dangerous?
Most cases of varicose vein aren’t dangerous.
Aside from their unsightly appearance and discomfort, varicose veins don’t necessarily lead to other health problems.
In some cases, however, they might lead to complications, but this is usually many years after the varicose veins first appear and it’s also more likely in people who have experienced significant discomfort.
Treatment isn’t usually necessary from a health point of view.
Who gets varicose veins?
Varicose veins start to appear as we get older (in women, this is typically in our forties), but in reality they can affect people at any age. According to the WI, 20 per cent of women in their 30s have varicose veins.
Stretching of the vein walls and weakening of the vein valves occurs in some people for no apparent reason.
Certain factors can increase the risk of developing varicose veins: family history, age, being overweight, pregnancy, occupation (e.g. jobs that require long periods of standing).
Finally, gender makes a difference as more women are affected by varicose veins then men. And although men can be affected by varicose veins, their body hair and the fact that most of them aren't bothered about wearing skirts make it less of an aesthetic concern.
Celebrities with varicose veins
Celebs aren’t spared from varicose veins.
Emma Thompson after varicose vein treatment © MCMULLAN CO/SIPA
Here are a just a few female celebrities who have been affected by varicose veins:
- Britney Spears, singer, 29
- Kristin Davis, actress, 46
- June “Dot Cotton” Brown, actress, 84
- Emma Thompson, actress, 52
- Ulrika Jonsson, TV presenter, 44