If you have visible veins in your legs, you may be wondering if they are something you should be concerned about. While some veins you can see under your skin are associated with varicose veins, not all visible veins will get worse. Learn how to tell if you have varicose veins.
Look for these 7 signs of varicose veins
Varicose veins happen when the walls or valves of a vein weaken. Normally, the valves keep blood from flowing backwards in the vein. When the valves don’t work properly, the blood has difficulty flowing toward the heart and can pool in the vein. This is called venous reflux.
Here are seven common signs that could indicate you have varicose veins.
1. Protruding, swollen veins
Varicose veins appear enlarged; they likely also appear dark blue or purple, although they can look red or flesh-colored. Additionally, they may appear swollen with the vein raised above the surface of the skin and/or bulging or twisting, which makes them look cord-like.
3. Heaviness in legs
Many people with varicose veins complain of the sensation of heaviness in their legs. While it is normal to have tired, achy or heavy legs after physical exertion, it is abnormal if you have to work hard to lift your legs to walk. This may suggest that the return blood flow from the legs to the heart is compromised. When the leg veins are weak, it can cause oxygen depletion, which can lead to a feeling of heaviness in the legs.
4. Leg swelling
When varicose veins leak, they can cause blood to pool and waste products to gather in the leg. Severe leaking can turn into a condition called chronic venous insufficiency, causing swelling that can be more noticeable, as well as skin discoloration or ulceration. Leaking veins can also upset other bodily function, including the lymphatic system. Lymphedema is a type of swelling that occurs when the lymphatic system is overwhelmed by a buildup of leaking fluid.
5. Itchy or irritated rash
Increased pressure in the vein leads to inflammation of the vein wall, which can cause itching over the affected varicose veins. Varicose veins can also lead to an itchy rash (dermatitis) on your leg or ankle.
6. Restless legs
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is characterized as a throbbing, unnerving sensation in the legs. Even with elevation, the legs may experience unpleasant sensations (e.g. creeping, tugging and pulling), and temporary relief may only be found by constantly moving them about—RLS can be accompanied by an irresistible urge to move the leg. This syndrome, for many, is often the result of the central nervous system malfunctioning. But varicose veins, a secondary cause, can contribute to RLS symptoms.
7. Darkening of the skin
Skin discoloration occurs in the more advanced stages of venous reflux. Initially, the skin appears red, and this is due to inflammation. Over time, however, as the blood continues to pool under the skin, the red blood cells breakdown and damage the skin. The skin may then go from red to tan or reddish-brown. The skin may also harden like a scar and other symptoms like itching, dryness, oozing fluid, open sores, scabbing, and crusting may occur.
Can varicose veins cause more serious problems?
Varicose veins may not cause any problems other than changing the appearance of your legs. They can also cause throbbing, discomfort or pain. However, varicose veins can lead to more serious health problems, such as:
- Skin ulcers or sores—As blood pools in the varicose veins, painful ulcers can develop which can be a very serious condition that is difficult to treat.
- Bleeding—Over time, the skin covering a varicose vein can become thinner and more likely to break open if injured.
- Superficial thrombophlebitis—This is a blood clot in a vein close to the surface of the skin. It causes the skin to look red and the vein to feel warm, firm and tender. There can also be swelling and pain in the area.
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)—This is a blood clot in a deeper vein. It may cause pain, redness, warmth or swelling in the leg. If the blood clot dislodges, it can travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism, a serious medical condition that can be fatal.
Should you see a doctor about varicose veins?
If you are concerned about the appearance of the veins in your legs, contact your doctor. If left untreated, varicose veins can get worse. There are many minimally invasive treatments that can reduce the symptoms of varicose veins and help you resume your daily activities.
While your doctor likely will recommend lifestyle changes such as losing weight, exercising, elevating the legs frequently or avoiding standing for a long time, there are a number of treatments available as well.
Treatment options for varicose veins include:
- Compression stockings, which are usually the first step in treatment, squeeze your legs to help your blood flow.
- Sclerotherapy is an injection of a solution into the vein that closes off the varicose veins.
- Endovenous thermal ablation therapy that involves heating the vein from inside to close it off and allow blood to flow to healthier veins.
- Ambulatory phlebectomy is a procedure that involves removing a varicose vein through tiny incisions in the skin.