Varicose veins are large, ropy, colored swellings that appear on the skin, primarily on the legs and feet. They can be an aesthetic eyesore, but most often, they’re a sign of deeper trouble with the circulatory system.
At Northwest Houston Heart Center, with four locations around the Houston, Texas, area, Dr. Adnan Aslam and Dr. Roy Norman are concerned about your circulatory health, and that includes the varicose veins on your legs. They want you to understand how and why these large veins are problematic, so they’ve put together this informational guide.
What leads to varicose veins?
Your veins are the part of your circulatory system that returns deoxygenated blood from the periphery of your body back to the heart. Unfortunately, that means the blood has to flow against the pull of gravity. Muscle contractions in your calves and elastic vein walls help push the blood on its way. In addition, tiny valves inside your veins open as blood flows by, then close to prevent it from flowing backward. If these valves are weak or damaged, say by an injury or due to high blood pressure, they don’t fully close again, and blood pools, causing the veins to stretch or twist. The underlying condition is called venous insufficiency, since blood flow is sluggish and provides insufficient nutrients to the tissues, and the visible result is varicose veins.
Almost 40% of Americans experience venous insufficiency (CVI) at some point in their lives.
And while varicose veins may be a cosmetic concern, they can also produce pain, skin itching and swelling, and an aching heaviness in the legs. In addition, they can lead to later stages of vein disease, which cause more complications and are harder to treat.
Varicose veins: a sign of deeper trouble
If venous insufficiency goes untreated, it puts you at risk for any of the following health conditions:
Vein damage and bleeding
Varicose veins can damage the skin of your legs. Fluid leaks from the bloated vein, causing itchiness, redness, warmth, and edema (swelling). These damaged veins also lead to thinning of the skin’s layers directly over their location. That means if you scratch or bang your leg, the vein can rupture, causing significant bleeding.
When small blood clots develop in superficial veins, those close to the skin’s surface, the vein may feel hardened, hot, swollen, and tender to the touch. Though not as dangerous as deep vein thrombosis, this condition requires medical attention so the clot won’t break off and damage other tissues.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
Large blood clots that form in the deep veins of the leg cause a condition known as deep vein thrombosis. While the clot does further slow down blood flow, the primary cause for concern is if it dislodges or a piece breaks off. Then it can travel through the bloodstream to your lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism (PE), a blockage of your airway. This is a life-threatening emergency. Call 911.
In addition to causing further swelling and skin discoloration (venous stasis dermatitis), CVI can cause painful, slow-healing skin ulcers on your lower leg and especially your ankle. Because slow blood flow can’t deliver healing factors quickly enough, the ulcers can easily become infected. In diabetics, more than 80% of lower-limb amputations start with a venous ulcer.
If you’re experiencing varicose veins, with or without symptoms, it’s time to come into Northwest Houston Heart Center for an evaluation; we have treatments that can prevent those veins from causing more serious problems. Give us a call at one of our locations — in The Woodlands, Magnolia, Cypress, or Tomball, Texas — text us at 832-402-9518, or book online with us today.