Diagnosing varicose veins 

If you have varicose veins and they don't cause you any discomfort, you may not need to visit your GP. Varicose veins are rarely a serious condition and they don't usually require treatment.

However, speak to your GP if:

  • your varicose veins are causing you pain or discomfort
  • the skin over your veins is sore and irritated
  • the aching in your legs is causing irritation at night and disturbing your sleep

Varicose veins are diagnosed by their appearance. Your GP will examine your legs while you're standing to check for signs of swelling. 

You may also be asked to describe any pain you have and whether there are situations that make your varicose veins worse. For example, some women find their menstrual cycle (periods) affects their varicose veins.

Your GP will also want to know if you're at an increased risk of developing varicose veins, such as:

  • having a family history of varicose veins
  • being pregnant
  • whether you have a healthy body mass index (BMI)
  • having deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot in one of the deep veins of the body)
  • a history of leg injury (for example, having previously broken a bone in your leg)

Further investigation

Your GP may refer you to a vascular specialist (a doctor who specialises in veins) if you have any of the following:

  • varicose veins that are causing pain, aching, discomfort, swelling, heaviness or itching
    (whether or not you have had varicose veins before)
  • changes in the colour of the skin on your leg that may be caused by problems with the blood flow in the leg
  • skin conditions affecting your leg, such as eczema, that may be caused by problems with the blood flow in the leg
  • varicose veins that are hard and painful that may be caused by problems with the blood flow in the leg
  • a healed or unhealed leg ulcer (a break in the skin that has not healed within two weeks) below the knee

In most cases, a test called a duplex ultrasound scan will be carried out. This is a type of scan that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce a picture of the veins in your legs.

The picture shows the blood flow and helps the vascular specialist locate any damaged valves that might be causing your varicose veins.

Page last reviewed: 02/09/2014

Next review due: 02/09/2016