One of the biggest complaints from people with varicose veins is often the appearance: It’s common to feel self-conscious of the blue and bulging veins on the leg and other parts of the body. However, it’s important to know that varicose veins are not simply a cosmetic concern, and that treatment may be necessary to prevent serious health problems.
To understand the importance of treating varicose veins, you need to understand what causes them. “There are many different causes of varicose veins. They essentially have to do with increased pressure,” says Kira Minkis, MD, PhD, dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine.
Varicose veins occur when the walls of blood vessels become damaged from elevated blood pressure, which causes the veins to swell and bulge outwards from the skin. In other words, it’s a medical concern because it implies there is a problem with blood flow.
This blood flow problem could result in complications of varicose veins, such as:
Venous ulcers: These are skin wounds caused by a leaking varicose vein. When the vein cannot return the blood back to the heart, it starts leaking out of the vein instead.
Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT: This is when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, obstructing blood flow and causing blood to pool. Learn more about deep vein thrombosis here.
Pulmonary embolism: DVT can be dangerous if the blood clot travels to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism that blocks blood flow to the lungs and is potentially fatal.
“The treatment of varicose veins early on is important because the more advanced they become, the more symptomatic and the more difficult it is to treat,” says Dr. Minkis. “You're not necessarily just treating the varicose veins at that point, but you might also have to deal with the complications that they have caused as well.”
Additionally, varicose veins could become symptomatic, causing burning, pain, or swelling of the legs. Symptoms could be bad enough to affect your quality of life and inhibit your everyday activities. These unpleasant symptoms could be avoided by starting treatment early.
Who Needs Treatment for Varicose Veins?
Your doctor may recommend treatment for varicose veins if you’re at risk of DVT or a pulmonary embolism. You can also seek treatment to reduce the symptoms or appearance of varicose veins.
Treatment for varicose veins on the legs may vary: Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to prevent or manage varicose veins, wearing compression socks, medications to relieve pain, and potentially procedures to close off varicose veins (endovenous ablation and sclerotherapy) or surgery to remove the vein altogether.
“After the treatment of varicose veins, patients should expect their legs to look pretty much back to normal, but that process can take some time,” says Dr. Minkis. Some bruising and discoloration may occur at first, but it typically fades back to a normal appearance (and more importantly, with healthier blood flow).