Gnarled, bulging varicose veins do much more than ruin the appearance of your legs. Sure, you may experience leg pain and cramping. But even if you don’t have leg discomfort, varicose veins are always the visible sign of an underlying vein disease that can lead to serious health complications.
Dr. Laura Fernandes at Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute specializes in varicose veins, using in-office diagnostics to evaluate your veins and offering several safe treatments that permanently eliminate the varicosities, heal the underlying venous disease, and restore healthy circulation.
Underlying vein disease associated with varicose veins
Varicose veins begin when one-way valves inside the veins become damaged and dysfunctional. These valves normally keep blood moving up your leg. If they weaken or stretch, they let some blood go in the wrong direction and flow down your leg, a condition called chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).
CVI is the underlying disease responsible for varicose veins. Varicose veins develop as the refluxing blood accumulates and engorges the vein. This blood buildup also increases pressure in the vein.
The increasing pressure damages other valves, weakens the vein walls, and leads to a large network of varicose veins. High venous pressure also causes health complications in your lower leg.
Varicose vein symptoms
Varicose veins are associated with two different problems. They’re a sign of CVI, and they also cause leg symptoms, including:
- Overall leg pain
- Pain along the varicose veins
- Muscle cramps
- Leg heaviness or aching
- Restless legs
- Leg swelling
- Unusual sensations (burning, throbbing, tingling, numbness, itching)
Not everyone develops pain, swelling, or other symptoms with varicose veins. That’s why it’s important to know that even if your legs are symptom-free, you still have chronic venous insufficiency, sluggish blood flow through the vein, and high venous pressure. That means you’re at risk for more severe health complications.
Health complications arising from CVI
If you don’t seek treatment for varicose veins, CVI may cause one or more of the following conditions:
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
DVT is a blood clot that develops in the veins located deep in the center of your leg. This condition is closely related to CVI.
As venous insufficiency slows circulation, your blood thickens, raising your risk for DVT. And if DVT develops first, the blood clot can damage valves and cause CVI.
DVT usually causes the following symptoms:
- Sudden swelling of one leg
- Leg pain or tenderness
- Warm-feeling skin
- Red or discolored skin
Sometimes the blood clot breaks free and travels to the lungs, where it blocks blood flow. This is a life-threatening condition called pulmonary embolism that requires immediate emergency care.
High venous pressure forces fluids out of the blood vessels in your lower leg. As the fluids reach the surrounding tissues, they can cause an inflammatory skin condition called stasis dermatitis. Stasis dermatitis is a type of eczema known for symptoms like redness and dry, scaly, itchy skin.
Hyperpigmentation is reddish-brown skin discoloration. The discoloration, which occurs as iron-containing cells from your blood infiltrate your skin, may occur alone or with stasis dermatitis.
The skin in your lower leg may thicken and harden, taking on a leathery texture. Lipodermatosclerosis may also cause inflammation, pain, and itching.
Venous stasis ulcer
A venous stasis ulcer is a serious skin complication. The ulcer (a shallow, open wound) begins when fluids leaking from your veins break down the nearby skin.
These open wounds typically appear around your ankles, but can affect any part of your lower leg. Though the ulcer seldom causes pain, you could have painful inflammation and the wound may bleed or ooze.
Venous stasis ulcers are dangerous because they don’t heal unless you seek specialized wound care. Without intensive treatment, the skin around the edges keeps breaking down and the ulcer enlarges, putting you at risk of skin and bone infections.
Don’t wait for leg symptoms or skin conditions to get help for your varicose veins. Call the nearest office or use online booking to request an appointment today.