With their twisted, bulging, purple or blue protrusions snaking up the legs, there’s no doubt varicose veins can be unsightly. Approximately 25 percent of women in the United States struggle with these swollen vesses. The problem is not restricted to female patients; as many as 15 percent of men also experience this condition. Many choose not to consult a physician if they don’t cause significant discomfort, believing treatment to be unnecessary if their varicose veins are asymptomatic.
But varicose veins may be more than an aesthetic issue for some individuals — if allowed to progress, they can have a significant impact on your health. Left untreated, varicose veins can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including pain, throbbing, swelling, itching, cramping, tenderness, and heaviness or fatigue in the lower legs. In some cases, they can lead to more severe complications with significant consequences for your overall health.
If you start to see any of the symptoms below, seek a full venous evaluation as soon as possible:
Unaddressed varicose veins often result in excess blood leaking into the tissues of the leg. Along with inducing painful swelling and inflammation, this leakage can cause the skin to become dark and discolored. Areas may initially become red, irritated, and inflamed as blood pools beneath the skin. As the condition advances, the skin may turn brown and leathery with scaling or crusting on the surface.
As varicose veins expand, the skin over the veins stretches and becomes thin, leaving it vulnerable to injury. Even minimal trauma — like brushing up against a piece of furniture — can result in the tearing or bursting of a vein and significant blood loss that may require medical attention. Disproportionately severe bruising may occur if the skin is not broken.
Sores or Skin Ulcers
As varicose veins worsen, the chronic suppression of regular blood flow may cause open sores or ulcers on the surface of the skin. These are painful and difficult to heal and tend to get larger over time if they do not receive adequate treatment. In some cases, venous ulcers cannot improve until the backward blood flow in the vein is repaired.
Swelling in the legs interferes with the skin’s natural defenses against bacteria, leaving the skin vulnerable to an infection called cellulitis. As the disease spreads, the area will become swollen and feel warm to the touch. Painful blisters may form, and you may develop a fever or swelling in the lymph nodes. Antibiotics are required to eliminate the infection.
Venous eczema can also result from excess leg pressure caused by varicose veins. The condition can lead to a rash and skin that is itchy, dry, flaky, scaly, or crusty. If the disease progresses, scratches or small sores may appear on the skin. Venous eczema is treated with steroid creams and topical ointments.
Lipodermatosclerosis is an inflammation of the fat just beneath the skin, known as subcutaneous fat, that is accompanied by redness, swelling, uneven skin pigmentation, and skin hardening. The condition is painful, and the patient may find that it is difficult to move or relax as their legs become increasingly tender. The lower legs may also take on a tapered appearance resembling an inverted champagne bottle or a bowling pin.
A varicose vein may be more vulnerable to blood clot formation. Superficial thrombophlebitis is a condition in which a blood clot forms in a vein just below the skin’s surface, causing redness in the skin and a firm, tender vessel that is warm to the touch. There may also be localized leg pain and swelling.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is the most severe condition related to the proliferation of varicose veins. DVT is a blood clot in a deeper vein that presents with a “pulling” sensation in the calf, pain, warmth, redness, and swelling. Patients may also feel as though their nerves are being pinched as swelling increases. DVT may cause no significant symptoms, but if the blood clot travels up the body to the lungs, the condition can be fatal. Immediate medical treatment is advised to prevent a life-threatening pulmonary embolism.
When To See A Doctor About Varicose Veins
Early treatment is often recommended to help prevent varicose veins from becoming more difficult to manage and develop into a dangerous condition. The sooner they are evaluated by a physician, the higher the likelihood that they can be addressed at home with conservative treatments.
Not all varicose veins are the dark, bulging cases typically seen in photographs. Some are less noticeable, while others are not visible at all. If you have unexplained symptoms of venous disease such as pain, heaviness, tenderness, or swelling in the legs, it’s important to be evaluated by a vein specialist. Patients in higher risk categories should be routinely assessed to monitor their condition.
Some varicose veins can be managed with lifestyle changes that prevent them from advancing, including wearing medical-grade compression garments and maintaining a regular exercise routine. Others are more severe and require medical treatment from a specialist to reduce the risk of developing a secondary condition. Fortunately, most vein treatments today are minimally-invasive, eliminating troublesome veins and their symptoms without a significant disruption in your daily life.
If you are concerned about the consequences of leaving your varicose veins untreated, call Advanced Vein & Vascular Center at 610-687-5347 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Carabasi.