Varicose veins are impossible to miss. These gnarled, bulging, dark purple and blue veins become the most noticeable feature of your legs and a cosmetic embarrassment — one of the reasons many patients come to Hamptons Vein & Vascular for treatment.
Another reason our patients come in for varicose vein treatment is that they hurt. Varicose veins don’t always cause symptoms, but when they do, they’re painful. They can also make your legs ache or feel tired and, in some cases, they become itchy.
No one wants to drag through the day with uncomfortable legs, so our patients are thrilled to learn that varicose veins are easily treated without surgery.
Improving your appearance and getting rid of symptoms are great reasons to have your veins evaluated and treated, but there’s another reason that’s more important for protecting your long-term health: Untreated varicose veins can cause serious complications.
How varicose veins develop
The veins in your legs move blood up your legs so it can get back to your heart. One-way valves throughout your veins are essential for this task, as they open to let blood go up and then close to stop it from flowing back down. If a valve becomes damaged or weakened, it can’t do the job, and blood accumulates in the vein.
When blood pools in the vein and doesn’t make it back to your heart, you have a condition called venous insufficiency. Venous insufficiency leads to varicose veins, which starts a domino effect of progressive vein problems.
As varicose veins allow more blood to accumulate, the vein walls stretch. This stretching pulls on the next healthy valve down the vein, damaging that valve and allowing more blood to pool in another segment of the vein.
In addition to developing a large network of tortuous varicose veins, these changes lead to potentially serious complications.
Varicose vein complications
Varicose veins and venous insufficiency create unusually high pressure in your veins, and they slow down blood flow. Over time, these two changes can cause:
Superficial thrombophlebitis occurs when slow blood flow damages the vein and leads to blood clotting and vein inflammation. Symptoms include skin redness and localized tenderness and swelling just above the affected area. This condition seldom causes complications, but it’s a sign that more serious vein problems may exist.
The combination of weakened vein walls and increased venous pressure make untreated varicose veins susceptible to spontaneous bleeding. Even slightly brushing the veins against an object can break the skin and cause bleeding. In some cases, the bleeding can be extensive and difficult to stop, so you need immediate medical attention.
High venous pressure damages small capillaries and forces fluids out of the veins in your lower legs. As fluid infiltrates the surrounding tissues, stasis dermatitis develops an inflammatory skin disease that resembles eczema and causes red skin, itching, and scaling.
Hyperpigmentation — a red-brown discoloration of your skin — may appear before the skin rash and remain long after the rash heals. Hyperpigmentation and stasis dermatitis are often the first side effects caused by venous insufficiency.
Venous stasis ulcer
When venous hypertension goes untreated, the leaking fluids gradually break down your skin and create a wound called a venous stasis ulcer. The ulcer begins as a shallow, painful area that most often develops over your ankle bone.
Venous stasis ulcers are dangerous because they’re extremely difficult to heal. An ulcer can last 9 months or longer. Even after they finally heal, they often recur. The longer the ulcer goes without healing, the more likely it is to enlarge, become inflamed, and cause an infection.
Lipodermatosclerosis is another skin condition that can develop due to venous insufficiency. This condition causes thickened and discolored skin, pain, itching, and inflammation that can involve your foot and entire lower leg. Lipodermatosclerosis may affect one or both legs, where it often coexists with venous ulcers.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
DVT is a blood clot in a deep leg vein. This condition is a dangerous complication because the blood clot can break free and travel to your lungs. Once in your lungs, the clot can block an artery and cause a life-threatening pulmonary embolism.
If you have questions about your varicose veins or you’d like to learn more about how they’re treated, call Hamptons Vein & Vascular to schedule an appointment or request one online.