Varicose veins are an aesthetic eyesore. These large, colored, ropy protrusions, primarily on the legs and feet, mar the appearance of your skin. But are they a danger to your health?
Yes, according to Dr. Adnan Aslam and Dr. Roy Norman at Northwest Houston Heart Center, serving the greater Houston, Texas, area. The doctors and their staff are concerned about their patients’ circulatory health, and that includes the varicose veins on your legs. To help you understand how and why these large veins are problematic, they’ve put together this informational guide on the subject.
Your circulatory system is a closed loop, where oxygenated blood pumped from your heart travels through arteries to your body, and deoxygenated blood returns to the heart through the veins. The problem with the veins, though, is they have to work against gravity to ensure the blood gets where it needs to go.
To solve the problem, your body has two “fixes.” First, muscle contractions in your calves and the elastic nature of the vein walls help push the blood forward. Second, tiny, one-way valves inside your veins open to let the blood flow by, then close once it’s through to prevent it from flowing backward. If the valves become weak or damaged, they can’t fully close, and blood pools, causing the veins to stretch or twist. And since they’re close to the skin’s surface, they protrude.
The condition of sluggish or stalled blood flow is known as chronic venous insufficiency, and the visible result is varicose veins. Almost 40% of Americans experience chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) during their lives.
And, while varicose veins are unquestionably a cosmetic concern, they may also be painful and itchy and lead to an aching heaviness in the legs. In addition, they can lead to later stages of vein disease that produce more health complications that are harder to treat.
If you don’t treat venous insufficiency, and by extension varicose veins, it puts you at risk for more advanced vein disease.
When a vein turns varicose, fluid can leak from it into the surrounding tissue, causing redness, warmth, itchiness, and edema (swelling). The layers of skin directly over the vein can also thin; a hard scratch or a bang to your leg and the vein may rupture, causing significant bleeding.
When small blood clots develop in veins close to the skin’s surface, the vein may feel hard, hot, swollen, and tender to the touch. Though not as dangerous as deep vein thrombosis, superficial thrombophlebitis requires medical attention to prevent the clot from breaking off and damaging other tissues.
DVT occurs when large blood clots form in the deep veins of the leg. While the clot itself can worsen venous insufficiency, the primary cause for concern is if it breaks free or a piece breaks off. That piece can travel through the bloodstream to your lungs and block your airway. This is known as a pulmonary embolism (PE), and it’s a life-threatening emergency. Call 911.
CVI can also cause painful, slow-healing skin ulcers on your lower legs and ankles. And since slow blood flow can’t deliver healing factors to the site quickly enough, the ulcers can easily become infected. In diabetics, who are at risk for CVI, more than 80% of lower-limb amputations begin with a venous ulcer.
If you’ve developed varicose veins, you need to get medical treatment, and at Northwest Houston Heart Center we have treatments that can prevent those veins from causing danger to your health. Give us a call at one of our locations — in The Woodlands, Magnolia, Cypress, or Tomball, Texas — to schedule a consultation with one of our vascular specialists, text us at 832-402-9518, or book online with us today.