Varicose veins | Mate ia auraki

Key points about varicose veins

  • Varicose veins (mate ia auraki) are enlarged and swollen blue or purple veins usually found in your legs and feet. 
  • They can cause pain, discomfort, swelling, dry and itchy skin and an eczema rash.
  • You’re more at risk of developing varicose veins if you are female, overweight, pregnant, stand for long periods or have a family history of varicose veins.
  • They can be treated by a minor surgical procedure to redirect blood flow to other veins.
  • Varicose veins may be prevented by avoiding standing or sitting for long periods of time, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and raising your legs to hip height when sitting.
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Varicose veins usually affect the superficial veins in your legs that are found just below the surface of your skin. The main symptom is enlarged, swollen veins that may not cause any concern other than their appearance. Other symptoms can include:

  • painful or aching legs
  • swelling
  • dry, itchy skin.

If left untreated, the potential complications include eczema rash, recurrent skin infections, venous ulcers, bleeding veins and blood clots.

Veins are part of the network of blood vessels that carry blood around your body. One-way valves within your veins open and close to prevent blood from travelling the wrong way. When these valves are damaged, blood collects in the veins in your legs causing increased pressure which leads to varicose veins.

You are more at risk of developing varicose veins if you:

  • are female
  • are overweight
  • stand for long periods of time during the day
  • have a family history of varicose veins
  • smoke
  • have suffered from deep vein thrombosis previously
  • are pregnant.

Your risk also increases as you age due to the veins in your legs losing their elasticity over time and affecting how well the valves open and close.

Video: How varicose veins form

The following video explains how varicose veins form. It may take a few moments to load.

(Bupa, UK, 2013)

Varicose veins are usually easily diagnosed because they’re visible beneath the surface of your skin.

If your varicose veins are causing minimal or no symptoms, your GP may just recommend conservative care, such as that you try to lose some weight, stop smoking, exercise regularly, wear compression stockings and lift your leg to your hip height when resting. 

They should also refer you to a vascular surgeon for advice and treatment. Most procedures to treat varicose veins focus on sealing off the varicose vein and redirecting blood flow to other veins. These are often minimally invasive procedures that are performed under local anaesthetic with quick recovery time.

See your GP if your varicose veins are causing:

  • pain or discomfort
  • swelling of your legs or feet
  • skin changes around the varicose vein
  • external bleeding.

Varicose veins can increase your risk of developing venous leg ulcers, so if you have been diagnosed with a leg ulcer your GP should recommend further treatment.

Varicose veins develop due to many reasons and they’re often unable to be prevented. Some ways you can try to prevent developing further varicose veins include:

Varicose veins(external link) Australian and New Zealand Society for Vascular Surgery, 2018
Varicose Veins – Management [PDF, 180 KB] Waitemata DHB, NZ, 2014


  1. Varicose veins(external link) NHS, UK, 2015
  2. Varicose veins(external link) Patient Info, UK, 2016

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Dr Lupe Taumoepeau, vascular surgeon, Wellington

Last reviewed:

Page last updated: