Varicose veins are swollen tributaries of the superficial veins in the legs. These 'branches' become distended if the valves in the main veins are not working properly, causing the blood to fall back down the leg rather than pumping it back to the heart.
In the past varicose veins were considered a cosmetic issue and therefore left untreated. However, through medical research, we now know that they are a clear sign of venous disease which can, if left untreated, lead to other complications such as venous eczema, leg ulcers, heaviness in the legs and oedema (swollen legs).
It is a popular belief that men do not get varicose veins. This is untrue. Just as many men have varicose veins as women, it's just that women are more likely to seek treatment. Pregnancy and being overweight can make varicose veins worse, although it doesn't cause them. Varicose veins run in families and if a relative has varicose veins this dramatically increases your chance of having problematic veins too.