Are Varicose Veins Dangerous to Your Health?

Enlarged and twisted veins, typically in the legs, are known as varicose veins. Roughly 30 million American adults are diagnosed with varicose veins, the majority being women. The condition can be brought on by age, obesity, prolonged standing, sedentary lifestyle, and pregnancy; developing varicose veins seems to be associated with a genetic predisposition, as well

Most people experience few or no symptoms with varicose veins other than discoloration of the skin and a pronounced swollen appearance, which can cause embarrassment for those who are affected. However, as the condition progresses, which it always does, patients tend to note a dull aching in their legs, as well as swelling (particularly in the ankles), a feeling of heaviness, and often an itchy feeling, especially if the condition is left untreated. 

In addition to being unsightly, varicose veins can contribute to restless leg syndrome and may lead to skin discoloration and open sores as the condition becomes more advanced. Many women and men with this condition become concerned about the possible complications of their varicose veins. Could the swelling and other symptoms be a sign of a deeper, and more threatening, condition?

What causes varicose veins?

Arteries provide the pathway for blood to travel from your heart throughout your body, keeping your tissues healthy and organs in good working order. The blood travels back to the heart through a network of veins. In your lower extremities, these veins work against gravity to do their job.

As blood travels through those veins, tiny valves open to let the blood flow upward and close to prevent the blood from flowing back into the vein. Valves that weaken, or become damaged, often can’t fully perform their task, so blood can flow backwards and pool in the veins. These veins become swollen, twisted, and stretched out of shape. This is the condition known as varicose veins. There have been theories proposed to explain why these valves fail, but no one really knows. However, our recent understanding of venous flow might provide us with insight as to why this condition begins and progresses.

Complications associated with varicose veins

While most varicose veins are simply uncomfortable, they can interfere with your normal daily activities if they ache or cause a heavy feeling in your legs. You may find relief by elevating your legs or wearing compression socks. Eventually, you need to seek treatment for your condition.

Beyond interfering with your activities, there are occasions when your varicose veins pose a danger to your overall health and quality of life. As blood pools in your veins, it can leak down to your feet and ankles in a rare but serious condition known as chronic venous disease; your skin becomes hardened and discolored, and over time these changes lead to the possibility of developing ulcers and open sores. These sores can be difficult to heal, are associated with increased risk of infection, and can also lead to pain. Treating venous disease before chronic venous disease develops, is the best strategy to avoid these more serious problems. It is important to have your venous disease addressed by a specialist that is trained to understand the complex nature of this problem and to avoid the progression of the condition. Not all physicians that care for vein disease can do that. 

Clots also may begin to form as a result of varicose veins. If the clot is limited to a surface vein, the condition is known as superficial phlebitis, which is bothersome, but not worrisome. These clots do not pose a danger and with time, the body is able to deal with them. Other times, the lack of appropriate venous flow can lead to clots that are located within a deep vein of the lower extremity, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, which can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical intervention. 

Seek diagnosis and treatment for your varicose veins and avoid complications

Dr. Diego Hernandez, a Board Certified Vascular Surgeon, of Bloomfield Vein & Vascular, PLLC, encourages you to seek treatment for your varicose veins — for your health and peace of mind. Our office is located in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and we serve the greater Detroit area. If you have varicose veins and are concerned about your symptoms and wish to avoid complications, please contact us today to learn about our treatment options.

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