Varicose Veins: Not Just a Cosmetic Concern

Varicose veins are an unsightly nuisance that affects up to 40 million Americans. But they’re also a potential health hazard that could put you at risk for blood clots, ulcers and worse.

Swollen and twisted, and visible just under the skin, varicose veins develop when the one-way valves inside your veins become weak or damaged. When these valves don’t function properly, blood backs up and pools in your veins, causing them to swell. This occurs most often in the legs and ankles, but it can happen in other parts of the body as well. Hemorrhoids, for example, are a type of varicose veins.

This isn’t just a problem for women. Men can get varicose veins too. Anyone with an occupation that requires a lot of standing such as nursing, waitressing or bartending, is at risk.

If you don’t treat your varicose veins you will continue to experience pain, fatigue and swelling that keeps you from enjoying your life. In addition to the discomfort of varicose veins, there are a number of possible complications from untreated varicose veins:

  • Lipodermosclerosis: Blood that pools in the varicose veins is depleted of oxygen and nutrients. The veins don’t tolerate high pressure and red blood cells and fluid to leak into the tissues of the leg, which causes painful swelling. The red blood cells in the tissues cause chronic inflammation and the skin becomes dark and discolored. The medical term for the dark discoloration is hyperpigmentation. When the skin and the fat under the skin are inflamed for years, the tissues become woody and firm. The medical term for this woody, hard tissue is lipodermosclerosis.
  • Venous Leg Ulcer: A condition that may occur over time, with chronic venous insufficiency, is a venous leg ulcer. The ulcers due to varicose veins are painful and difficult to heal. In some cases, the ulcers cannot heal until the backward vein blood flow is corrected.
  • Spontaneous Bleeding: Another possible consequence of untreated varicose veins is spontaneous bleeding from the varicose veins. As the skin over the veins becomes thin, eventually the vein can be exposed and easily injured by clothing, bedding, etc. The blood loss can be significant but is painless.
  • Superficial thrombophlebitis (ST): ST is an inflammation of a vein just below the surface of the skin. The inflammation is not cause by and infection – rather, the inflammation is caused by decreased blood flow through the vein, damage to the vein and blood clotting. The symptoms of ST include skin redness and a firm, tender, warm vein. Localized leg pain and swelling often occur.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): DVT is often first noticed as a “pulling” sensation in the calf of the lower leg, and it can be quite painful. Symptoms also include associated warmth, redness and swelling. The swelling often extends to above the knee.

If a clot in a superficial (close to the skin) vein grows, it can move into a deep vein. These clots can break loose and move through the bloodstream to the lung, where it can cause a pulmonary embolism (a sudden, potentially life-threatening blockage). However, clots can be identified through ultrasound and then treated, typically with anticoagulants (blood thinners).

Varicose vein removal is covered by most insurance plans, a reflection of the procedure’s value beyond cosmetic concerns. If you’re not sure whether you need to treat your varicose veins, come in and see us.

Vein Center of Indiana is a leading provider in the treatment and removal of varicose veins and spider veins, including Phlebectomy, Sclerotherapy, Vein Imaging, and Compression Stockings. We serve the greater Indianapolis area, including Carmel, Westfield, Fishers, Noblesville, Geist, Broad Ripple, and Castleton.