What are the Complications of Untreated Varicose Vein Disease?

No one wants to deal with the complications of varicose veins.  Not only does their appearance cause distress, but the pain and health implications of varicose veins are also very challenging.  Let's look at some of the reasons you should never leave your varicose veins untreated. 

 

An Issue Of Circulation

The essential function of our veins is to return blood from our vital organs back to our heart.  This is constantly happening throughout our body and is required at all time.  Varicose veins can develop and worsen for many reasons including our genetics, multiple pregnancies, prolonged standing or sitting jobs.  Even our weight and level of activity play a role.  Because varicose veins are abnormal veins, they result in pooling of blood within the veins of our legs.  If we have a problem with our veins, then we may also have an issue returning blood flow back to our heart.  It is not a guarantee that someone with varicose veins will develop any complications at all, but some do, and they should be treated when indicated.  The longer varicose veins are left untreated, the higher the risk of possible complications they may pose.

 

Blood Clots

A blood clot may start in a varicose vein because of the pooling and slow flow of blood within the varicose vein.  This blood clot represents a complication of untreated varicose veins.  The clot may remain localized or may progress and become a progressively serious problem, leading to additional damage to various parts of the body. In extreme cases, a blood clot can even be a cause of sudden death.  If a blood clot develops in your varicose veins, you risk some of the following potential complications: 

Superficial Thrombophlebitis – This condition is defined as inflammation of the superficial veins in your leg. The blood clot is localized to a varicose vein, resulting in a red and tender area over the superficial varicose veins.  The area may also become firm and warm.  This is superficial thrombophlebitis.  This complication is usually easily treated with conservative management including use of graduated compression stockings, ambulation and oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. 

The clot in the superificial varicose veins can rarely progress and extend into deeper veins.  It may be difficult to distinguish between superficial thrombophlebitis and deep venous thrombosis.  Both may have similar signs and symptoms, so you should reach out to your vein doctor immediately, especially if you fear that you may have either of these conditions. Your doctor can determine which (if any) of these conditions apply to you and how to move forward with diagnosis and possible treatment. 

Deep Vein ThrombosisDeep venous thrombosis is a blood clot within the deep veins and can lead to symptoms of pain and/or swelling in your legs.  There may be a palpable tube like structure or palplable cord in the leg.  This palpable cord is the clotted deep vein. This is a serious medical condition and if the clot is extensive, you may need to be hospitalized and put on blood thinners for treatment.  If caught early, this type of blood clot can be treated as an outpatient with oral blood thinners.  Some patients may need additional blood work to determine if they have a genetic predisposition to developing blood clots.

Pulmonary Embolism - Blood clots within deep veins may dislodge and migrate out of the deep veins and towards the heart.  If the blood clot moves from our deep veins and into our lungs, this is called a pulmonary embolism.  A pulmonary embolism is a life threatening event and may lead to death.  A patient with a pulmonary embolism may present with chest pain and shortness of breath.  A smaller pulmonary embolism in an otherwise healthy individual may go unrecognized.  Patients with pulmonary embolism should be hospitalized and treated with blood thinners.  Initially the blood thinner will be administered  intravenously and then converted to an oral blood thinner so that the patient can be discharged from the hospital and followed as an outpatient.

 

Bleeding 

Varicose veins are prone to bleeding perhaps more than any other type of vein in your body.  The walls of the varicose veins are abnormally thin and inflammed.  Because these varicose veins live so close to the skin's surface, even minor injury to the skin like bumping into something, or cutting yourself can lead to damage of the vein wall and bleeding.

Under normal conditions, what might have been a minor bump and some slight discomfort, can quickly turn into a bigger bleeding issue.  This may lead to a situation of bleeding from your varicose veins that simply will not stop. It is a scary reality for many people, and it is a complication worth noting. 

If you ever run into this complication of bleeding from your varicose veins, it is important to apply direct pressure to the site of bleeding.  Continue to apply pressure until the bleeding comes to a complete stop.  If the bleeding continues, it would be advisable to elevate the site of bleeding. If the bleeding does not cease, then it is time to call for emergency services and seek medical help. 

 

Rash Or Skin Discoloration 

On the visual side of things, some patients have reported that they experience a rash or skin discoloration around the area where the varicose veins are the worst. The rash is often red in color and may be focal or diffuse throughout your lower leg, depending on severity.  This rash is a form of dermatitis and when related to stasis of blood in varicose veins, is called venous stasis dermatitis.  This rash is caused by inflammation of the overlying skin from the underlying varicose veins and is usually very itchy.  It’s best not to itch the skin because of the added risk of bleeding or infection.  Venous stasis dermatitis is best treated with use of graduated compression stockings and applying a steroid cream.  Long term treatment includes treating the underlying varicose vein disease. 

With prolong stasis of blood in varicose veins and delayed treatment of varicose veins, patients may also develop a reddish or brownish discoloration of the skin overlying varicose veins.  This discoloration is called hyperpigmentation and usually starts near the ankle and over time progresses to involve the calf.  This form of discoloration is due to red blood cells leaking out of the veins and being broken down near the skin surface.  Once hyperpigmentation begins, it will usually worsen over time.  Treating the underlying varicose vein disease will stop or slow the progression of this skin discoloration.  The discoloration itself is not a threat to your health, but it may be a sign of worsening vein disease and occasionally  a sign of a blood clot forming.  Besides that, many patients report that they are embarrassed or ashamed of the way the discoloration looks on their legs. 

 

Ulcers

Moving up the scale of serious complications that can befall someone with varicose veins, formation of a venous ulcer is one of the worst. When there is an excessive amount of inflammation and blood pooling in the veins, ulcers sometimes may develop.  An ulcer can be painful, and it can take a considerable amount of time to heal. Ulcers can be venous or arterial in origin.  If you develop an ulcer along the ankle area, it’s prudent you visit a vascular specialist.  An ulcer can cause significant physical and emotion anxiety.  Varicose vein treatment is critical to avoiding venous ulcer formation.  Once an ulcer forms, it’s possible this will be a long term problem requiring weeks and months to heal.  An ulcer is a varicose vein complication that is best avoided.

 

How We Can Help?

The Center for Varicose Veins specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of varicose veins and their complications.  Each individual requires a specialized treatment plan that meets each patients needs and concerns.  We sit with a new patient and answer any questions that they may have about their course of treatment. 

Treatment options for varicose vein disease include Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA), Endovenous Laser Ablation (EVLA), Venaseal, Varithena, and sclerotherapy.   Due to advancements in varicose vein treatment, procedures are now fast and easy. In fact, most minimally invasive treatments take less than 30 minutes to perform and do not require downtime.  If you have questions or concerns about varicose vein complications that you are experiencing, visit Dr. Vinay Madan at the Center for Varicose Veins.

Author
Dr. Vinay Madan, MD, DABVLM Dr. Vinay Madan, MD, DABVLM Dr. Vinay Madan is a board certified Interventional Radiologist and Phlebologist with over 25 years of experience in treating vein disease. Dr. Madan has served as the Chairman of Radiology and Section Head of Vascular Interventional Radiology at Eastern Connecticut Health Network. Dr. Madan brings a wealth of knowledge which allows him to treat patients with cosmetic and medical vein disease in a caring and compassionate way.

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