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About one-third of adults suffer from varicose veins. While most people recognize it primarily as an unsightly condition, untreated varicose veins can cause serious health issues.
"Leg heaviness, aching, burning, itching or swelling are all common signs of varicose veins," said Dr. Angelo Chachas, a surgeon for MountainStar Health Care who specializes in vein disorders.
"As venous disease progresses it can lead to more pain, swelling, purple discoloration of the skin around the ankle or even opens sores," Chachas said. "Visible varicose veins can also bleed or clot."
To prevent progression of the malady, Chachas advised patients with early symptoms of vein problems to stay active, to avoid being sedentary and to maintain a healthy weight. He also recommended compression stockings when standing for extended periods.
Here are six risks to your health that are linked to untreated varicose veins.
Part of the danger of varicose veins is linked to the blood that pools within them. Depleted of oxygen and nutrients, this blood can cause chronic inflammation, with the skin becoming dark and discolored, a condition also known as hyperpigmentation.
The symptoms associated with hyperpigmentation include one or more of the following: swelling, cramping, burning, throbbing, itching, aching or a heavy feeling in the legs, according to MountainStar Healthcare.
Additionally, because of the pooling of blood, coupled with the lack of nutrients within the cells, varicose veins allow red blood cells and fluid to leak into the tissues of the leg when under high pressure, which causes painful swelling.
Lipodermatosclerosis, another health issue tied to varicose veins, affects the skin of the lower legs, according to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center.
"It is a form of panniculitis (inflammation of the layer of fat under the skin). Signs and symptoms include pain, hardening of skin, change in skin color (redness), swelling, and a tapering of the legs above the ankles. The exact underlying cause is unknown; however, it appears to be associated with venous insufficiency and/or obesity.”
Venous leg ulcers
Venous ulcers, or open sores, can occur when the veins in the legs do not push blood back up to the heart as well as they should. Blood then pools in the veins, building up pressure that, if not treated, will lead to excess fluid pushing through, causing an open sore to form.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that venous leg ulcers usually occur above the ankle. Open sores create a home for infection, which can lead to worse problems — even death. In these instances, it is crucial to get medical attention to correct the problem as soon as possible.
When blood pools in lower extremities, spontaneous bleeding can also occur. As the skin over the veins becomes thin because of swelling and pressure from within, eventually the vein can be exposed and easily injured when a patient bumps into things, puts on clothing or experiences any number of everyday grazings against simple items. Should this occur, the blood loss can be significant and difficult to stop.
Explained as an “unusual but pressing indication for treatment” by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, this symptom can sometimes be lethal. During a 49-month period of study by the NCBI, researchers found that their cohort of 14 patients (who had experienced bleeding before) had at least one to five episodes of bleeding during this time, with one requiring a transfusion.
While not a common symptom, spontaneous bleeding because of varicose veins is a serious issue.
Superficial thrombophlebitis, according to the American College of Phlebology, is an inflammation of a vein just below the surface of the skin. This unseen danger means blood clots are likely just below the surface. Redness to the skin; a firm, tender, warm vein, and localized leg pain are some of the common symptoms.
Deep vein thrombosis
While superficial thrombophlebitis occurs near the skin, deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot or clots that form in a vein deep inside the body, most often in the leg, according to WebMD. These clots can be particularly dangerous because of the potential for a piece of the clot to break off and travel to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism, which can be deadly.
Chachas said you should be aware of any change in the way your legs look or feel. Watch for visible signs of varicose veins, but also be aware of leg pain, heaviness or swelling, or of open sores around your ankles.
If you experience any of these symptoms, get them checked out by the health care professionals at Mountainstar Healthcare to help you overcome these painful problems and protect yourself from hidden health risks.