What Happens if Varicose Veins Go Untreated?

a jogger holds their knee

Table of Contents

  • What Are Varicose Veins?
  • Can Varicose Veins Be Treated?
  • Varicose Veins Symptoms
  • Complications of Varicose Veins
  • Lifestyle Changes That May Help Varicose Veins
  • Treatments for Varicose Veins

Jokesters sometimes refer to varicose veins as “very close veins.” If you have these bulging veins in your legs, you may not feel like laughing about them. You probably dislike the way they look. But you may also wonder, are varicose veins dangerous?

The answer isn’t simple. Most varicose veins do not pose a risk to health, but some do result in complications. To understand why, you need to know a little about vein anatomy.

What Are Varicose Veins?

Veins start out as smooth, elastic tubes that carry blood back to the lungs and heart. They have small valves that keep the blood moving in one direction. Increased pressure in the veins can cause these elastic tubes to become stretched out. Then the valves may stop working properly. When blood pools in these stretched-out veins, they twist and bulge, becoming noticeable and sometimes unsightly.

Varicose veins can occur anywhere in the body, but they are most common in the lower legs. That’s where they are the farthest away from your body’s blood pump, the heart. Also, when you’re standing, gravity increases the blood’s tendency to accumulate in the legs. 

You may have inherited a tendency to develop varicose veins. Women, older people, and those who are overweight are also at an increased risk of having varicose veins. Pregnancy is a risk factor because it increases the volume of blood in the body, putting stress on the veins.

Can Varicose Veins Be Treated?

Varicose veins that appear during pregnancy sometimes go away when blood volume returns to normal. But in general, once you develop varicose veins, they aren’t going away. You may keep them from getting worse by controlling your weight and exercising, but your veins won’t return to their original elastic state.

Modern medicine has developed several methods of treating varicose veins. Some people choose to have them treated because they don’t like the way they look. But you may wonder, what happens if varicose veins go untreated?

Varicose Veins Symptoms

One reason to consider treatment is that varicose veins can cause discomfort or even pain. They can cause: 

  • Aches and heaviness in the legs
  • Burning or throbbing pain in the legs
  • Muscle cramps
  • Swollen legs
  • Discomfort when you have to sit or stand for a long time
  • Itching around a vein

You can choose treatment to relieve these varicose veins symptoms or choose to live with them. But you should also know about the possible complications of varicose veins.

Complications of Varicose Veins

Varicose veins seldom cause serious health issues, but some complications can occur, including these:

Bleeding. Because varicose veins bulge outward, it’s easy to bump or scrape them, causing bleeding. Such bleeding is usually mild, but any break in the skin can be an avenue for infection.

Venous ulcers. With varicose veins, blood can back up and actually leak out of the vein into the surrounding tissue. Then the skin may break down, creating an open sore or ulcer. Venous ulcers occur most often between the calf and ankle. They can be quite painful, are hard to heal, and often recur.

Blood clots. When blood flow in the legs is slow, a clot may form. When this happens in a leg vein that is close to the skin, the condition is known as superficial thrombophlebitis. The clot sticks to the surface of the vein, causing inflammation. The leg may be hot to the touch, swollen, and red. The part of the vein that is affected may develop a hard knot.

These conditions are not considered serious or life-threatening. A different condition known as deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, can be serious. DVT occurs when a clot occurs in a deeper vein, not one close to the skin. Researchers are unsure how varicose veins are related to the risk of DVT.

Although they are rarely serious, the complications of varicose veins can be painful, inconvenient, and worrisome. If you have had one or more of these complications, you may be interested in treatment for your varicose veins.

Lifestyle Changes That May Help Varicose Veins

You may choose to treat your varicose veins by making lifestyle changes. These changes will not cure your varicose veins, but they may reduce your symptoms. Changes you can make include:

  • Exercise. Find an exercise you like and do it regularly. Swimming or water aerobics and walking are especially good. High-impact exercises such as running are not recommended. Neither are exercises like weightlifting that put pressure on the legs.
  • Watch your weight. Try to keep your body mass index (BMI) within a healthy range. Excess weight, especially in the abdominal area, increases the stress on veins. There is, however, no proof that losing weight will improve the varicose veins you already have.
  • Elevate your feet. Raising your feet and legs can relieve pressure on your varicose veins. It’s especially important to elevate the feet if you have been walking or standing a lot.
  • Wear special stockings. Gradient compression stockings squeeze the legs and can reduce swelling and leg aches. But they can be hard to put on and uncomfortable in hot weather. Also, they may irritate the skin, especially if they are too tight or if they get wrinkled.

Treatments for Varicose Veins

For centuries, doctors have practiced varicose vein removal. This is possible because the body simply reroutes the blood through the remaining veins. Varicose vein removal, known as phlebectomy, is still practiced today, but there are also less invasive methods for treating varicose veins. With one exception, insurance almost always covers treatment for varicose veins. 

Veins can be treated with a process known as ablation, which destroys a small amount of tissue in order to relieve symptoms. Doctors can perform ablation using lasers or using heat created from radiofrequency (RF).

Doctors can also seal off veins by injecting a material that will close the vein. Substances that are commonly used include a microfoam and a medical-grade adhesive or “superglue.”

If you decide you want help with your varicose veins, you should consult a vein specialist. You can find one by using the locator available from My Vein Treatment. You can get relief from the symptoms of varicose veins and enjoy an improved appearance, too.

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