One of the most common misconceptions about varicose veins is that they are simply a cosmetic issue. Having varicose veins can cause some people to become self-conscious because of the discoloration and swelling, but the appearance is not the primary medical concern.
Though varicose veins are usually not serious, patients are advised to schedule an examination by a vascular physician to determine if there are any underlying problems that need to be addressed. If left untreated, varicose veins can lead to worsening symptoms, skin changes, problems healing, and ulcerations.
What are the risk factors for varicose veins?
A family history of varicose veins is one of the most common risk factors. Pregnancy is also a common cause due to increased blood volume and subsequent pressure in the veins. Other factors that may increase pressure include:
- Age (over 70 years)
- Being female
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Leg injury
- Hormone replacement therapy or oral contraception
What are the signs and symptoms of varicose veins?
Varicose veins are not usually dangerous, but they may cause significant discomfort. These are the six most common signs that you have varicose veins:
- Dark purple or blue color of one or more veins
- Veins that appear swollen, enlarged, and/or twisted
- Burning or throbbing in one or both legs
- Heaviness or aching in one or both legs
- Pain and/or swelling that is worsened with standing for prolonged periods
- Itchiness along one or more veins
What are the potential complications associated with varicose veins?
The biggest health risk associated with varicose veins is the possibility of a blood clot or deep vein thrombosis, commonly referred to as DVT. DVT can manifest itself as a “pulling” sensation in the legs or increased redness or swelling. DVT is treatable; but, patients are advised to seek immediate medical attention if they have localized pain or suspect any risk of a blood clot.
Other more serious but rare complications include:
- Bleeding: Varicose veins near the surface of the skin may burst and cause bleeding. This bleeding can be reoccurring and require medical attention.
- Ulcers: Painful ulcers can develop near varicose veins as a result of fluid retention, inflammation, and increased blood pressure.
- Lipodermatosclerosis: Also known as sclerosing panniculitis, this painful condition is the inflammation of the fat underneath the skin, likely caused by venous insufficiency. It is characterized by uneven pigmentation, redness, and swelling.
Should I be concerned?
Varicose veins are not often dangerous. However, receiving a regular vascular workup will assess risk factors and rule out concerns. Vein health can be easily checked through a simple, painless, and non-invasive ultrasound exam. Patients who are at risk are recommended to have regular check-ups.
At Virginia Interventional and Vascular Associates, our Board Certified, Fellowship Trained physicians specialize in vascular health and the most advanced options available to treat varicose veins. With a variety of non- or minimally-invasive outpatient procedures available, patients do not need to live with varicose veins—no matter how severe the discomfort or concern may be.