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Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are enlarged, twisted veins. They can happen anywhere in the body. But they are more common in the legs.

Varicose veins are not considered a serious health problem. But they can be uncomfortable and can lead to more serious problems. And because they may be very noticeable, they may cause people to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.

Spider veins, a milder type of varicose veins, are smaller than varicose veins and often look like a sunburst or “spider web.” They are red or blue in color and are often found on the face and legs, just under the skin.

What causes varicose veins?

Varicose veins are caused by increased blood pressure in the veins. They can occur in the veins near the surface of the skin.

The blood moves towards the heart by one-way valves in the veins. When the valves become weakened or damaged, blood can collect (pool) in the veins. This causes the veins to become enlarged. Sitting or standing for a long time can cause blood to pool in the leg veins. This increases the pressure in the veins. The veins can stretch from the increased pressure. This may weaken the walls of the veins and damage the valves.

Who is at risk for varicose veins?

You are at risk for varicose veins if you:  

  • Are overweight or obese
  • Are older in age
  • Have a family history of the condition
  • Are a woman
  • Are not physically active
  • Have had a leg injury
  • Are pregnant
  • Smoke
  • Use birth control pills (oral contraceptives) or hormone replacement

For more information on this topic, visit our Health Library.