Quick Answer: Yes, varicose veins can be dangerous and should be checked by a board certified vascular surgeon. One of the most dangerous aspects of varicose veins is that they are a stage in the progression of venous disease, can lead to blood clots and pulmonary embolism.
About these Varicose Veins
The valves located inside the vein, that prevent blood from flowing backwards, no longer functions allowing blood to accumulate within the vein, stretching the vein walls. The vein walls can also be weak allow for the blood to stretch the vein wall. Either one of both of these leads to varicose veins.
Certain factors such as family history, age, gender, prior trauma to the veins, excess weight, and static positions can all increase the risk for the development of varicose veins.
Varicose veins are visible under the skin can cause pain like throbbing, heaviness, and muscle cramps. Of course these swollen, violaceous, engorged veins can also lower self-esteem due to their appearance, but are they actually dangerous?
Danger #1: Pain
Often, varicose veins cause symptoms of pain, but some individuals may not have any pain associated and may only be concerned about the appearance. For those that suffer from daily pain from their varicose veins, particularly if common treatments, such as elevation, stretching, and compression stockings, do not alleviate the pain, this may be concern for further serious health problems.
Danger #2: Pressure in the Veins & Fluid Leakage
With increasing pressure in the veins, this allows for some of the fluid from the blood to move out of the vein and into the surrounding tissues. If there is a lot of excess fluid build up, a clear to yellow colored fluid, called serous drainage, may leak from the skin. With chronic swelling, this can lead to the skin becoming hardened or change in the color of the skin.
Danger #3: Ulcers
As the skin is changing from the chronic swelling, it becomes less able to heal, even from minor trauma to the skin, such as a scratch, which may eventually form a leg ulcer on the skin.
Danger #4: Bacterial Infection
Since the swollen skin does not receive all the nutrients that it should for proper healing, ulcers can take a long time to heal, but risk of infection also increases.
Bacteria are naturally present on the skin, but any break in the skin allows for the bacteria to enter the body and, in the setting of reduced nutrients for proper skin healing, usually results in infection.
Danger #5: Pooling of Blood & Blood Loss
Varicose veins are directly on the surface of the skin and contain a large amount of blood, since there is pooling of the blood from the malfunction of the valves and/or weakening of the vein walls. If any trauma results in cutting directly over the vein, this may lead to a large amount of blood loss and take longer to control the bleeding. If trauma occurs over the vein without a break in the skin, this would usually result in a large bruise.
Danger #6: Blood Clots
As the blood pools with varicose veins, there is a risk for blood clots to occur in the varicose veins, which is commonly called thrombophlebitis. The vein usually becomes hardened, like a rope, and the skin surrounding may be red and warm to the touch. Of those individuals that develop clots in the varicose veins, some will also have risk for a deep venous thrombosis, or deep blood clot.
The leg becomes painful, swollen, red, and usually with more pain with walking or touching the leg. This is a serious complication of varicose veins that would require immediate medical attention.
Danger #7: Pulmonary Embolism (possible death)
Despite the clot being dangerous all on its own, some of the clot can break off and move into the lungs, which is called a pulmonary embolism, which is life-threatening condition.
In Summary - The Dangers of Varicose Veins
The long and short of it is, sometimes varicose veins can be dangerous, but the majority of the time, this is considered a benign condition. If pain is resistant to home treatments with compression stockings, exercises, elevation, or if there is drainage from the legs or frequent infections, further treatment options may be necessary. In the event that there is redness, swelling, or increasing pain in the legs, you should seek immediate medical attention to rule out serious medical complications of varicose veins, such as deep venous clot.