A varicose vein is a bulging, protruding and rope-like vein that develops due to blood flowing the wrong way in the vein. Properly functioning valves inside the veins ensure that blood cannot flow backwards, but reflux is caused when there’s a faulty valve, weak vein wall, or a combination of both.

Other than their unsightly appearance, varicose veins often cause pain, discomfort, itching and a burning sensation. Patients complain that their legs feel heavy and swollen, particularly towards the end of the day and during fluid-retention days of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Others complain of a tired feeling in their legs, which might also feel achy, restless and suffer from night cramps.

Patients with varicose veins are prone to phlebitis, blood clots and DVT (deep vein thrombosis) due to the poor movement of blood in their veins. Longstanding varicose veins result in a medical condition called chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). The hallmark of CVI is increased pressure in the leg veins. Left untreated for long periods this can cause changes in the skin, especially around the ankles and lower calf. The skin becomes leathery, hard, dark in colour and is prone to ulcerations.

Untreated varicose veins increase in number and size over the years. Lifestyle factors that worsen the condition include: prolonged standing, a sedentary lifestyle, and obesity. In pregnancy, squeezing of the pelvic veins by the enlarged uterus, the hormonal changes and the mere effect of added weight combine to significantly worsen varicose vein problems in genetically predisposed women.

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