What Can Happen to Untreated Varicose Veins?
A lot of people assume that varicose veins are just unsightly and are more of a cosmetic thing than a health condition. The truth is – untreated varicose veins can lead to life-threatening issues. In fact, the lightest of spider veins are early indicators of vein disease. For deep vein thrombosis alone (which we discuss more in this post), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there could be as many as 900,000 people with the condition. Even if your varicose veins don’t hurt or cause other symptoms, you should get them checked and begin a preventive routine or treatment. If caught early enough, you can nip vein disease in the bud and never let it progress to anything serious.
Untreated varicose veins do not get better on their own. They simply will not go away unless there is intervention. While you can take preventive measures at home like wearing compression stockings, elevating your feet, and exercising more, it’s often not enough to stop the disease progression once it’s begun. In moderate cases, your veins will continue to leak and pool blood, leading to vein swelling, which gives your varicose veins that dark and bumpy appearance. Beyond that, things can and often do get worse. Here are some of the more serious complications that can result from untreated varicose veins.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
One worst-case scenario involving untreated varicose veins is deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which can become fatal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there could be as many as 900,000 people with the condition, and those with untreated varicose veins are already predisposed to superficial thrombosis, or blood clots. Without treatment, progression to DVT is possible. In DVT, a blood clot blocks circulation and can move from deeper leg veins to the lungs, resulting in a life-threatening pulmonary embolism.
Venous Ulcer Wounds
When blood flow isn’t pushed back up to your heart, it can lead to open leg sores, or venous ulcer wounds. These ulcers happen because the area is no longer getting enough blood flow. This causes a buildup of pressure in your veins and blocks your tissues from oxygen and nutrients. Cells die off, tissues are damaged, and wounds can develop. If the area around your varicose veins swells, itches, or is painful, seek medical attention as soon as possible. These ulcers usually develop on the inner leg, above the ankle.
Lipodermatosclerosis is the hardening of skin and fat tissues. It’s most common on the lower part of the legs of women over 40, and overweight patients are at greatest risk. In fact, about two thirds of people with this condition are obese. While considered rare, the condition is quite painful, with symptoms including swelling, heaviness in the legs, redness, and skin hardening. Leg discoloration will happen from blood leaking from weakened varicose veins into nearby skin and fat tissues, and leg ulcers may also form. Because of the amount of blood that is leaking, a minor cut could lead to significant blood loss.
Risk of Dangerous Bleeding
The buildup of pressure in your veins could cause them to rupture and bleed, even if you are lying down. Your veins are already weak, so the added pressure of blood backup due to venous reflux creates a recipe for a potentially serious bleed. The most susceptible veins are closest to your skin, so imagine how easy it could be to nick or cut your leg over one of those already protruding veins. By treating or removing those varicose veins, you can significantly reduce the risk of a dangerous bleed.
The Good News – Treatment is Available
If any of these conditions scares you, you can relax. An ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure. Varicose vein removal improves the appearance of your legs and may save your health and mobility in the long run. In most cases, insurance companies will pay for varicose vein removal, since untreated veins can lead to these serious medical problems.
One treatment most varicose vein patients benefit from is an outpatient procedure called sclerotherapy. The doctor performs a series of injections in the affected veins with a sclerosant fluid. These injections cause the vein to scar internally and collapse. It is not a painful procedure and most patients can resume their normal routine – although not heavy exercise – the following day. The number of office visits and injections vary according to the patient.
Laser ablation is an outpatient surgery that uses light energy to alter the wall inside the vein so that the vein can close. Your vein specialist will make a small incision in your skin and insert a laser-fiber catheter through the length of your vein. As the catheter is pulled out of your vein, the heat from the laser causes the vein to close and eventually absorb into your body. The surgery normally takes less than an hour and doesn’t require much post-surgical recovery.
Sometimes a complete vein removal surgery is needed. A phlebectomy is when veins that lie just beneath the skin are surgically removed via small cuts. A tiny hook is inserted to physically remove the veins, and the body will redirect blood flow to your healthy veins. This procedure does require local anesthesia and usually takes between 30 and 60 minutes to complete. Your provider will likely recommend wearing compression stockings for the next two to three weeks.
Seeking Vein Treatment
If you or someone you know would like to learn more about vein treatment, schedule a free consultation with one of our expert providers. In the meantime, check out some tips on improving your circulation to help keep your untreated varicose vein symptoms under control.
Hannah Kohut is Content Editor for Vein Treatment Forum.