Welcome to the OutUK series looking at gay men and their health brought to you in association with the NHS website.
Each week we'll tackle a different topic in our A to Z of Gay Health. We'll have features and advice on everything from relationships, sexual health, mental and physical conditions and how to stay fit. You can follow any of links provided below for more information direct from the NHS website, or view any of our Previous A to Z Features.
You should also know that OutUK has produced a special report about: Coronavirus Covid-19.

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This Week - V : Varicose Veins

Check if you have varicose veins

Varicose veins are widened veins that look swollen and twisted under the skin. They may feel lumpy and bulge out.

They're most common on the legs, but you can get them on other parts of your body.

They sometimes cause other symptoms that affect your legs, such as:

  • pain, aching or a feeling of heaviness
  • skin changes, such as itching, colour changes or dry, scaly skin
  • swollen ankles or legs

The symptoms may be worse after standing for a long time, and may get better when you rest with your legs up.

Varicose veins may get worse without treatment, but this usually happens very slowly over several years.

They are different from spider veins or thread veins - small red, blue or purple veins that are usually harmless.

Things you can do to help with varicose veins

If you have varicose veins, there are things you can do to help with the symptoms.


  • try to keep to a healthy weight

  • put your legs up when possible - for example, lie down with your legs on cushions

  • exercise regularly, such as running or walking, to improve blood flow

  • use a moisturising cream or lotion if you have dry, flaky or itchy skin

  • try not to injure your legs, to help prevent bleeding


  • do not stand for long periods

  • do not sit for long periods, unless your feet are raised

  • do not smoke, as it damages your veins - get help to quit smoking

See a GP if:

You have varicose veins and:

  • you have symptoms such as pain, itching or swelling in your legs
  • you get a sore on your leg that has not healed after 2 weeks

Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

  • you have varicose veins that are bleeding

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Treatment for varicose veins

Varicose veins do not always need treatment. A GP may refer you to a specialist for tests and treatment if you have:

  • symptoms such as pain, heaviness, swollen legs, itching or skin changes
  • any complications, such as ulcers on your legs

Treatment to improve how varicose veins look is not usually available on the NHS if they're not causing any other problems. You may be able to pay for it privately.

Assessment and treatment from a specialist

If you're referred to a specialist they'll usually do a test called duplex ultrasound to confirm if you have varicose veins and plan your treatment. This is a type of scan to check your blood flow.

There are several types of treatment that may be offered, including:

  • procedures to block blood flow in the veins, such as endothermal ablation and foam sclerotherapy
  • surgery to remove varicose veins
  • compression stockings

The specialist will explain which treatment may be best for you, and the benefits and risks.

Treating varicose veins in pregnancy

If you get varicose veins during pregnancy, you may be able to use compression stockings, but procedures or surgery to treat them are not usually recommended while you're pregnant.

Varicose veins often get better or go away after your baby's born.

Causes of varicose veins

Varicose veins happen when the valves that control the flow of blood in your vein do not work properly. This causes blood to build up and put pressure on the vein, which makes it swell and twist.

Varicose veins are very common and anyone can get them, but it's more likely to happen if you:

  • are a woman
  • are older
  • are overweight
  • are pregnant
  • spend a lot of time standing or sitting
  • have other family members with varicose veins
  • have had deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Complications of varicose veins

Varicose veins do not usually cause any serious problems. But they can sometimes cause complications including:

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We'll have more information and advice next week on another topic in our A to Z of Gay Health. We have covered many subjects in this series and you can catch up with all of our Previous A to Z Features.

If you want to find out more about this week's subject you can visit the Original article on the NHS website. If you are worried by any aspect of your health make sure you go and see your doctor or book an appointment at your local clinic.

Photos: LightFieldStudios and one of VladOrlov, Stockcube, darak77, ajr_images or rawpixel.com.


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