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Varicose veins are enlarged, swollen veins usually on the backs of your calves or the insides of your legs. They can develop elsewhere on the body (example: piles are varicose veins in the anus). They are very common and about 15% of adults will get them at one time or other. Women are more prone to them than men and they tend to run in families. Also, the older you are the more likely you are to develop them. They occur as a result of faulty valves in the veins which let blood seep back down your leg causing the veins to swell.

Varicose veins may not cause any problems but they can often make your legs ache and feel tired and heavy. Cramps are also quite common. Swollen feet and ankles can cause discomfort and skin can feel itchy. Occasionally the tissues in the legs can become so starved of oxygen and nourishment that the skin gets dry, scaly and discolored and ulcers can develop. Sometimes the vein becomes inflamed and blood clots develop making the vein red and swollen, which increases the risk of the vein being punctured and bleeding.

If your veins are very unsightly, painful or ulcerated, your doctor may suggest surgery. A popular new method called multiple cosmetic phlebectomy, involves removing problem veins via a number of small incisions in the leg. Very large, painful or ulcerated veins may need stripping. This is where a cut is made in the groin and the problem vein is cut and the free ends are tied. A flexible wire with a metal head is passed down through the vein which is then tied to the wire just below the metal head. The groin incision is sewn up and the wire pulled out through a small cut near the calf brining the vein with it. If you have only a few swollen veins sclerotherapy may do the trick. This involves draining the blood from the vein and injecting an irritant solution into it. The doctor will then bandage your leg tightly so the walls of the vein are pressed together and scar tissue is formed. Patients are encouraged to start walking straight away, wearing support bandages, and most return to their usual lifestyle after a week.