Are Varicose Veins a Health Risk?

If you have varicose veins, you have a lot of company. According to the Society for Vascular Surgery, as many as 35 percent of men and women in the U.S. have varicose veins, and many of them suffer from symptoms like pain, heaviness, swelling, and cramps. Even when varicose veins don’t cause discomfort, they can still look pretty unattractive, and because they occur more often with age, they can also make us look older and less healthy.

While most varicose veins don’t pose a serious health risk, the uncomfortable symptoms they cause can interfere with your life in a lot of ways. And sometimes, visible varicose veins can be a sign of vascular problems in deeper veins, especially the deep veins of the legs. Since varicose veins are a sign of some type of vascular problem, they should always be medically evaluated.

What causes varicose veins in the first place?

When we think of our circulatory system, we think of the heart as doing all the work in keeping the blood flowing throughout our bodies. But while the heart certainly plays a critical role in pumping blood away from the chest and into your arms and legs through your arteries, once it reaches your hands and feet, it needs a little assistance in pushing your blood back to your chest. And that’s where your veins come in.

Your veins are more than just hollow tubes to carry blood. The veins contain a series of tiny valves that open and close in rapid succession. These movements keep blood moving in one direction — back to your heart and lungs. If these tiny valves become damaged, blood flow in that area slows down, and blood can begin to “pool up” behind the valves, exerting forces that cause the vein to weaken and bulge. This is what causes the bulging, swollen, twisted appearance characteristic of varicose veins. Varicose veins become more common with age as wear and tear on our vessels takes its toll; they’re also more common among people who are overweight, women who’ve given birth to multiple children, and people who spend a lot of time standing or sitting. Varicose veins also occur more commonly in women, possibly as a result of hormonal fluctuations.

Related health risks of varicose veins

The varicose veins you can see bulging and twisting under your skin look unattractive, but in most cases, these veins are not especially dangerous to your health, even though they can be uncomfortable. However, when varicose veins form in deeper veins — veins you can’t see through your skin — they can pose serious medical risks. Varicose veins in those deeper veins in your legs and, less commonly, your arms or other parts of your body are weakened, just like the varicose veins that form closer to the surface of your skin. And that means blood can become sluggish behind the damaged valves inside those veins and wind up pooling up behind the valves. Because of the location of the veins, when blood flow slows down inside a varicose vein, it can wind up causing a clot.

A blood clot can cause some pretty extreme symptoms, like swelling, pain, and temperature differences in your leg, ankle, and foot. And if that clot winds up breaking free, it can travel to your lungs, where it can cause potentially deadly complications. Blood vessel problems caused by plaque buildup and vessel constriction in your legs and arms are sometimes referred to as peripheral vascular disease or PVD. Just because you have varicose veins near the surface of your skin, that doesn't necessarily mean you have the deeper kind of varicose vein. However, since these visible, superficial varicose veins are a clear sign of a circulation problem, it's a good idea to make an appointment so your circulatory health can be evaluated.

Don't ignore your vascular health

Having a vein evaluation with Dr. Patel at NeoSculpt Laser Vein & Cosmetic Surgery Center is the first step in making sure your varicose veins aren't a sign of a more serious circulation problem. If you've got varicose veins, don't ignore them. Book an appointment online today.

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