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Are Varicose Veins Dangerous?

Home > Are Varicose Veins Dangerous?

    Updated on Oct 18, 2022 by Dr. Jonathan Arad (Vein Doctor) of Vein Care Center

    Varicose veins are twisted and swollen veins that bulge out. They can be felt as a bump under the skin and are typically purplish-blue or red. They are usually found in the legs as the veins in the lower regions work against gravity when pushing blood upwards, from the legs to the heart. Do not leave your varicose veins untreated, as they can result in serious complications. Contact vein specialists at the Vein Care Center to have your twisted and bulging veins accurately diagnosed and prevent them from turning dangerous.

    Varicose veins can occur anywhere; even hemorrhoids are a type of varicose vein. For some people, varicose veins and spider veins, a common and mild condition of varicose veins, are a cosmetic issue but, for others, they can be a concerning matter. Varicose veins can turn painful and lead to sudden health problems if they are not checked on time. They could also be a sign of some underlying vein disease or medical disorder and must be treated effectively.

    The most common causes of varicose veins are faulty valves and increased pressure in the legs that weaken the vessel walls and result in enlarging and swelling of veins. Any superficial vein can become varicose, but veins located in the lower extremities are frequently affected by it as standing and walking increase the pressure in the veins of the lower body.

    Symptoms of Varicose Veins

    Varicose veins are generally not painful, but they can turn very itchy and uncomfortable as the venous insufficiency progresses.

    Common symptoms include:

    • Prominently visible dark blue or purple veins
    • Veins that appear twisted and bulging out and look like cords underneath the skin
    • Achy or heavy feeling in the legs
    • Leg ulcers or sores
    • Burning, throbbing, muscle cramping, and swelling in lower legs
    • Intense pain after sitting or standing for a long time
    • Itching around one or more of the veins
    • Skin discoloration around the veins

    Sometimes spider veins are mistaken for varicose veins, but they are smaller and found closer to the skin’s surface. They vary in size and often appear like a spider’s web underneath the skin.
    Varicose veins

    How Can Varicose Veins Be Dangerous?

    Varicose veins can be a cause for concern when they are left untreated as they lead to clotting in the blood that pools in the lower extremities. This condition can progress into a deep vein clot known as deep vein thrombosis. DVT is alarming and requires immediate medical attention.

    Painful varicose veins must not be overlooked as they could be a sign of other serious problems such as a blood clot, an open sore, or a skin infection. Also, painful varicose veins can turn critical if they are not medically attended to and develop new complications.

    Some complications resulting from varicose veins include:

    Leg swelling

    As the pressure builds within the veins, fluid from blood can leak into the surrounding tissues and cause swelling. Signs of swelling include a sensation of tightness in the skin and indents or impressions when you take off socks or shoes. You may even find it tough to wear shoes if your legs become very swollen. The skin also starts leaking a clear or yellowish fluid. If the swelling persists for some time, it can lead to hardening or a change in skin color.

    Skin ulcers

    Skin can develop ulcers when varicose veins are not cared for, for a long time. The swelling makes it difficult for the skin to heal from even minor injuries as the swollen tissues limit the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the affected tissue that aid the healing process. The constant tension on the skin can prevent or delay recovery, leading to painful ulcers.

    Skin infection

    When the tissues stretch from swelling, it affects the body’s natural defense mechanism, affecting its ability to fight infections. Bacteria, which are present on the skin, can get into the body that cause a skin infection called cellulitis. Swelling can increase with a skin infection, and you may develop areas that become red and warm that can only be treated with a doctor’s advice and proper medication.


    Varicose veins can lead to the accumulation of blood right below the surface of the skin. If this vein is hit or cut, it can result in bleeding, and it can take longer for the bleeding to stop depending on the extent of the injury. Even if the skin is not broken, there will be marked bruising.


    Blood clotting is normal in varicose veins, and most people end up developing clots. These clots become painful, warm to the touch, and hard if they are not cured timely.

    Deep Vein Thrombosis

    People who develop blood clots in varicose veins are at risk of developing them in deeper veins. Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a potentially dangerous and grave medical disease that requires immediate treatment as it could result in severe consequences. The biggest risk of DVT is that the clot or a part may break off and move towards the lungs, causing a life-threatening condition called pulmonary embolism.

    You must seek immediate medical attention if you notice changes to your varicose veins or the symptoms begin to worsen. They include:

    • Darker patches of skin, sores, or leg ulcers
    • Bleeding veins
    • Veins that are painful and feel hot
    • Persistent pain and swelling

    Not all varicose veins are dangerous or lead to life-threatening complications but getting yourself evaluated will help to know more about your condition.

    Serious Health Risks of Varicose Veins

    Varicose veins can also be the first stage of a big problem called chronic venous disease characterized by brawny skin and discoloration, typically in the calf and ankle. The blood pooling in the varicose veins leaks into the tissues of the lower leg and ankle and leads to discoloration and hardening of the skin, also causing ulcers that do not heal easily.

    Pregnancy can also complicate matters for some women and increase the risk of hemorrhoids and varicose veins. Pregnant women can face pain, swelling, and discoloration in the legs and ankles that go away after the baby is born. However, if your varicose veins and the surrounding area become warm, get red and very painful, or begin to bleed, it is a sign of a complication.

    You could also be at risk of chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), a condition that results when blood pools in the superficial and deep leg veins. It develops when the blood pressure in the veins is abnormally high, and the blood does not flow toward the heart. It can occur with or without varicose veins after the veins are damaged by injures or blood clots and result in a combination of symptoms, including twisted and bulging veins, skin discoloration, and varicose veins.

    Treating Varicose Veins

    Treatments for varicose veins include self-care measures such as exercise, elevating your legs, and wearing compression socks. They can ease the pain and prevent varicose veins from worsening, but they are not a permanent solution.

    Vein doctors close or remove the affected veins with minimally invasive treatments and procedures including:

    • Endovenous laser ablation
    • Radiofrequency ablation
    • Sclerotherapy
    • Ambulatory phlebectomy

    Some of these procedures reduce the pressure in the varicose veins, while others directly seal or remove the varicose veins.

    Do not waste time getting the swelling or painful veins on your legs checked by a doctor as it could be a sign of something dangerous. Varicose veins affect your health and quality of life, and the painful symptoms make it tough for you to participate in daily activities.

    Varicose veins are not just a cosmetic issue and must not be ignored. If you are suffering from varicose veins or any of the painful and disturbing symptoms, schedule an appointment with a vein specialist to ensure you do not end up with anything serious. At the Vein Care Center, Dr. Jonathan Arad will take your medical history, examine the varicose veins, and may even recommend a venous ultrasound to see if the valves in your veins are functioning normally and search for blood clots. He will monitor your progress and ensure your varicose veins do not turn dangerous and lead to further complications.

    Dr. Jonathan Arad has either authored or reviewed and approved this content.