If your legs are marked by prominent, twisted, bulging, or rope-like dark blue veins, you’re not alone — varicose veins affect nearly one in four adults in the United States. While anyone can develop the problem, these swollen, conspicuous veins tend to occur most often in women, older adults, and people who are inactive or overweight.
While having varicose leg veins may leave you feeling self-conscious about your appearance, aesthetics shouldn’t be your only cause for concern. If your veins are painful, bothersome, or cause your legs to feel achy or heavy at the end of a long day, it may be time to consider your treatment options.
Understanding varicose veins
Tasked with carrying deoxygenated blood from your body to your heart, your veins contain a series of one-way valves designed to keep your blood flowing in the right direction. A weak or damaged valve can create a partial blockage that causes blood to pool in one spot and place increased pressure on the surrounding vessel walls.
Repeated pooling and swelling can weaken and distort the affected vein over time, ultimately causing it to become permanently varicose — or swollen, twisted, misshapen, and damaged.
Although all of the veins in your body work against gravity to keep blood flowing in the right direction, the veins in your legs are more likely to become varicose as you age because they’re under the greatest amount of pressure.
Potential health risks and problems
Appearance is a top concern for most people with varicose veins, and for good reason — dark, bluish-purple veins can be strikingly obvious, while severely swollen or twisted veins can bulge outward and distend the surface of your skin.
Unfortunately, varicose veins aren’t just a cosmetic concern, especially when they continue to grow and develop. Here are a few ways they can affect your health and well-being:
Pain and discomfort
Varicose veins are often asymptomatic early on. As time goes on, however, it’s not unusual for a long-standing varicose vein to become itchy, uncomfortable, or even painful.
Many people experience increased pain around a varicose vein after long stretches of sitting or standing; larger varicose veins can also make your affected leg feel heavy, achy, or cramped by the end of the day.
Blood clot formation
The repeated pooling of blood behind weak valves can pose an even greater problem than varicose veins. Instead of flowing through healthy veins like a river, blood pools like a stagnant pond, raising your risk of developing blood clots.
While they can be quite painful, blood clots that form in a varicose vein are superficial, meaning they’re not usually life-threatening. If your varicose vein affects normal circulation, however, it can lead to deep vein thrombosis, or the development of clots in your deeper veins. These clots can cause a serious medical emergency if they break off and get into a lung.
Chronic sores and ulcers
Long-term vein dysfunction can also affect nearby skin tissues, causing detrimental changes in structure, elasticity, and function. As the skin around a varicose vein becomes more fragile, it’s more likely to develop painful ulcers or open sores that take a long time to heal.
Persistent edema (swelling)
Extensive varicose veins can obstruct the circulation in your leg just enough to cause edema, or the buildup of excess fluid in your tissues. Besides leaving your leg perpetually swollen, edema increases your risk of developing a fungal or bacterial infection in the affected area.
Hemorrhaging or bleeding
Less commonly, varicose veins that have been weakened from non-stop pressure can burst. If the affected vein is very close to the surface of your skin, you may bleed; if the vein is situated deeper, it may hemorrhage internally and give you a large, tender bruise.
Effective treatment solutions
It can be difficult to determine if a varicose vein poses certain health risks; large, excessively gnarled veins aren’t necessarily more likely to become problematic than smaller, less deformed-looking veins.
If you have a vein that looks especially severe, has changed or grown quickly over time, or causes any type of discomfort, now’s the time to have it examined by a vein specialist.
Depending on the size, severity, and location of your problematic vein, you may benefit from sclerotherapy, a minimally invasive treatment that painlessly collapses the vein from the inside out. More advanced veins can often be eliminated via stab avulsion, a minor surgical procedure that removes varicose veins through tiny incisions that don’t require stitches.
If you’re ready to address a bothersome varicose vein, the team at Vascular Institute of New York can help. Call our New York City office in Borough Park, Brooklyn, today, or click online to schedule a visit with one of our experienced vein specialists any time.