What happens if varicose veins go untreated?
Untreated Varicose Veins Cause Problems
Varicose veins are damaged veins that are enlarged due to the buildup of blood. This happens when the vein’s valves — which open and close to help blood flow upwards towards the heart — stop working properly, causing blood to build up and stretch the vein. While varicose veins can occur anywhere, they typically form in the lower legs, feet, and ankles. They have a blue or purple rope-like appearance and are located near the skin’s surface.
There are several ways to treat varicose veins to reduce discomfort, minimize their appearance, and help prevent future issues. However, untreated varicose veins can cause problems, including blood clot issues, physical discomfort, ulcers, and more. Some issues are merely cosmetic, while others may require medical attention.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
Leaving varicose veins untreated can lead to deep vein thrombosis and other blood clot issues in the legs. When blood is forced to move at a slower speed, such as what happens in varicose veins, blood clots can form. When blood clots form in a vein that is located deep within your body, this is called deep vein thrombosis. These blood clots can reduce or block blood flow within the vein.
If a blood clot breaks away from the vein, it can travel through your body and potentially get stuck in a blood vessel in your lung, which can be life threatening and cause a pulmonary embolism. Treating deep vein thrombosis can involve medications, surgery, and wearing compression stockings, so it’s best to prevent this condition when possible.
When blood struggles to flow upwards towards the heart, it can lead to inflammation and skin damage. Varicose veins that are left untreated can cause lipodermatosclerosis, a type of panniculitis in which the layer of fat under the skin becomes inflamed. It can cause symptoms like pain, redness, swelling, hardening of the skin, and can cause the legs above the ankles to have a tapered appearance.
Failing to treat a vein that has become varicose can lead to physical discomfort, especially in the leg. The area around the vein can become itchy, painful, sore, achy, swollen, or heavy feeling. If continued to be left untreated, the damaged vein can cause these symptoms to get worse over time. Untreated varicose veins may also become even more damaged, causing increased swelling and pain. Even if you’re not experiencing pain now, it doesn’t mean you never will. Seeking treatment for varicose veins sooner rather than later can help prevent physical pain in the future and help ease any existing discomfort.
Untreated varicose veins can lead to venous ulcers, sores that develop on the skin due to poor blood flow. Venous ulcers commonly occur on the legs or ankles. As blood continues to get backed up in the vein, it puts pressure on the skin, which can cause open sores to form on the leg. These sores may be difficult to heal, putting them at risk of becoming infected. Poor blood flow can also make it more difficult for scrapes or cuts to heal. Symptoms of leg ulcers include skin discoloration and hardening, redness, swelling, pain, itching, and more.
When a damaged vein is left untreated, the blood that pools in the vein can put pressure on it and cause it to rupture. Since these veins are weaker than normal and are located near the surface of the skin, which can also be weak, it may not take much to cause bleeding — even a bump or minor scrape can cause bleeding. Depending on how deep the vein is, it may be difficult to get the bleeding to stop. If bleeding persists or if there is a lot of blood, you may need to call 911 for assistance.
Skin Discoloration and Unsightly Appearance
Veins that have become varicose are blue or purple in color and have a twisted, bulging appearance that some may consider unsightly. Without treatment, they may become more noticeable. They can also cause spider veins, which are smaller, located just below the skin’s surface, are blue, purple, or red in color and have a twisted appearance like a spider web. Untreated varicose veins can also cause skin discoloration as well as dry or tough skin. Although this may only be a cosmetic issue, many people prefer not to have them. Vein treatment can help you feel confident in showing your bare legs.
How to Prevent Varicose Veins
A variety of factors contribute to varicose veins, including aging, pregnancy, obesity, lifestyle, and family history. Women are more likely than men to develop varicose veins. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent varicose veins.
Sitting or standing for long periods of time makes the veins in your leg work harder to push blood up to your heart, so try to avoid being too sedentary. Take time to walk around to support better blood flow. If you stand for most of the day, be sure to take breaks and put your feet up to help blood flow to the heart.
Excess body weight also puts pressure on veins and their valves, especially those located in the legs. This can cause the valves to weaken and the veins to twist and bulge. Aim to keep a healthy body weight to help prevent varicose or spider veins from forming in the leg. Exercising, especially leg exercises, can not only help you keep a healthy weight, but also encourage better blood flow to the heart.
Additionally, don’t wear clothing that fits too tightly, especially pants with tight waistbands, as this puts more pressure on your legs. The exception here is compression socks and stockings, which can encourage blood circulation and help keep varicose veins from getting worse.
Varicose Vein Treatment
When varicose veins are not treated, you are at risk of developing uncomfortable and sometimes serious symptoms. Fortunately, many treatment options exist, and a vein or vascular specialist can help determine which is best for you.
One treatment option is radiofrequency ablation. This is a non-surgical procedure where a small catheter that’s inserted in the vein delivers radiofrequency energy, causing the damaged vein to close. The vein is reabsorbed by the body, and blood flow is directed to healthy veins.
Another option is ClariVein, an FDA-approved and minimally invasive procedure that uses a thin rotating wire and a medical solution to treat the damaged vein. This seals the vein and reduces symptoms of venous insufficiency.
VenaSeal™ closure is a treatment option that is virtually pain free and involves no downtime. In this procedure, medical adhesive is inserted into the damaged vein to close it. The procedure is a safe and effective way to immediately reduce uncomfortable symptoms of venous insufficiency.
For damaged veins that are large and near the surface of the skin, ambulatory phlebectomy may be a good option. During this procedure, the skin is numbed and the diseased vein is removed. Patients are required to wear compression stockings after the procedure to encourage healing.
Sclerotherapy is a treatment option that involves injecting a chemical solution into the vein, causing it to collapse. The vein is reabsorbed by the body and blood flow is directed to healthy veins.
At Polaris Vein Center, we offer all of these varicose vein treatment options. Dr. Amanda Cooper and her team look forward to meeting you and helping you find the right solution for your varicose and spider veins. Untreated varicose veins can lead to blood clots, ulcers, increased pain and swelling in the legs, and other uncomfortable varicose vein symptoms. Before your varicose veins become a bigger problem, talk to the professionals at Polaris Vein Center. We will discuss your concerns and goals, explain the different procedures, and help you choose a treatment that fits your needs. Contact us at (614) 488-5090 to learn more and schedule your free consultation.