What Are the Potential Complications of Untreated Varicose Veins?
The varicose vein is a disease of the venous system of one or both of the legs. This disease is characterized by the presence of dilated and enlarged veins that are visible on the skin surface. These veins look blue or purple because they contain deoxygenated blood.
There are various causes of varicose veins such as aging, pregnancy, deep venous thrombosis (DVT), and obesity. These factors may cause varicose veins by either making the valves incompetent or by increasing the blood pressure in the venous system of the legs. Both these mechanisms promote backflow of blood toward superficial veins that lead to varicose veins.
Varicose veins are not generally a life-threatening disease if it is mild and not long-standing. However, proper treatment should always be undertaken to avoid any potential complications like deep venous thrombosis (DVT) which can be deadly. The following is a list of potential complications of untreated varicose veins.
As varicose veins are superficial, dilated, and prominent, they are very prone to damage and can start bleeding due to minor trauma. This bleeding is usually copious in amount and does not stop easily. Direct pressure should be applied along with raising the involved leg in order to stop the bleeding.
Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT)
Varicose veins cause stasis of blood in the legs due to incompetent valves and faulty blood flow. This stagnant blood in the leg can start developing clots and the condition known as deep venous thrombosis (DVT). These clots can worsen the condition and compromise blood supply of the involved area, leading to severe pain. If these clots dislodge, they can move to the lung and cause a life-threatening condition known as pulmonary embolism.
If you are suffering from varicose veins and suddenly develop severe pain in the leg or chest, contact your doctor immediately.
Thrombophlebitis is actually a manifestation of blood clots in the superficial veins. When blood clots form in the superficial veins, or in this case in varicose veins, they can cause pain, swelling, and redness. These symptoms indicate inflammation of venous walls and can be treated by using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen etc.
Ulcers Due to Varicose Veins
Ulcers can form on the legs due to long-standing varicose veins. As these ulcers are a result of venous disease, they are known as venous ulcers. Due to increased blood pressure in the affected leg, the fluid from the blood moves out of the veins and starts collecting below the skin. This causes thickening and swelling of the skin that ultimately leads to ulcer formation. These ulcers most commonly form around the ankle.
This is another complication of long-standing varicose veins. It is actually the inflammation of the fat under the skin surface due to the disease. Long-standing inflammation can cause scarring in the fat and on the skin. This leads to hardening of skin (sclerosis), swelling, redness, and increased pigmentation. Lipodermatosclerosis usually involves the calf area of the involved leg.
Eczema Due to Varicose Veins
Long-standing and untreated varicose veins can also lead to skin eczema. Eczema is characterized by dry and scaly skin over the area suffering from varicose veins. Blister formation can also occur. This condition is typically chronic but it does not pose any serious health hazards.
It is always advised to have your varicose veins treated in a timely manner. Although they do not typically cause any life-threatening problems, it is always beneficial to have a physician ensure they do not need treatment to help avoid potential complications of this disease.
Muzammal Habib, MD
Vascular Medicine and vein specialist
Dr. Habib has been practicing vein care and vascular More about this author »