Are Varicose Veins Dangerous? When Should You Be Concerned?

Nearly 1 in 4 adults in the US live with varicose veins. They most commonly appear on the legs but can form anywhere on the body where a vein is present.

While anyone can develop varicose veins, older women are at a higher risk due to hormonal changes and the effects of aging on skin and blood vessels. Other risk factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Sitting or standing for long periods
  • Family history
  • Cigarette smoking

Varicose veins are usually nothing but a cosmetic concern without any severe health implications. In rare cases, however, they may cause pain, swelling, skin ulcers, and blood clots.

What Are Varicose Veins?

Usually, your veins transport blood from your tissues back to your heart. To help with this, they have one-way valves that open and close to keep the blood flowing in the right direction.

In varicose veins, these valves have become damaged or weakened, causing interruptions in blood flow and allowing blood to pool in the vein. This can cause the vein to become swollen, stretched, and twisted.

In mild cases, the only noticeable symptom may be the appearance of discolored spider veins. In more severe cases, varicose veins can bulge from the skin and cause pain and other more severe symptoms.

When To See A Doctor About Your Varicose Veins

The vast majority of varicose veins don’t pose any serious threat to your health and can be safely left untreated. However, there are a few complications that may, in rare cases, occur, such as:

  • blood clots
  • skin ulcers
  • bleeding

Varicose veins can also increase your risk of suffering from deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot that forms in the deep veins, usually in your thigh or leg. This can become life-threatening if the clot breaks free and travels to your lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism.

Warning signs of potentially dangerous varicose veins include:

  • dark patches of skin
  • open sores or ulcers
  • bleeding veins
  • painful veins that feel hot
  • persistent swelling and pain

Tell your doctor if your varicose veins come with any of these symptoms as soon as possible. Or, if you are simply concerned about the appearance of your veins, schedule an appointment to discuss your options.

Treatment Options For Varicose Veins

The most straightforward methodology of treatment for varicose veins involves wearing compression sleeves or stockings. These garments apply gentle pressure to your legs, which helps improve circulation and relieves pain and swelling.

In more serious cases, your doctor could recommend one of the following procedures to remove or close off the affected veins:

  • Sclerotherapy: A solution is injected into the vein, causing it to collapse and scar shut.
  • Laser Therapy: A laser is used to heat and safely destroy the vein.
  • Vein Ligation and Stripping: The vein is tied off and removed through tiny incisions.
  • Endoscopic Vein Surgery: An invasive procedure and last resort, where a small camera is inserted through a tiny incision to guide the removal of the vein.

Treatment is not always necessary, as varicose veins only rarely cause serious health problems. However, if you experience significant pain or other bothersome symptoms, talk to your doctor about the best treatment options.