Many people who do not treat varicose veins experience continued pain, fatigue and swelling in the legs or the ankles—although the severity of these symptoms vary from person to person. Some patients may even experience more advanced complications.
The blood inside varicose veins is depleted of oxygen and nutrients. The veins themselves also don’t do a good job of tolerating high blood pressure, and may allow red blood cells and other fluids to leak into the tissues of the leg, leading to painful swelling.
A discoloration then forms when red blood cells in these tissues cause chronic inflammation in the skin. This dark skin discoloration is known as hyperpigmentation.
Lipodermatosclerosis is a condition characterized by tight and hardened skin near the calf as well as skin that’s often sensitive to touch or abrasion. It develops when the skin and the fat under the skin are inflamed for years at a time, leading to a feeling of woodiness or firmness in the skin. In these cases, the skin may also turn a brown or reddish color.
If left untreated, varicose veins can lead to varicose eczema. This is a condition characterized by scaly, red and flaky skin, and the formation of blisters. Varicose eczema is chronic and isn’t likely to disappear permanently, but also is unlikely to lead to any serious medical complications. It can be treated using moisturizers, topical ointments or compression garments.
Venous Leg Ulcers
Venous leg ulcers develop over time due to chronic venous insufficiency. These ulcers are very painful and can be difficult to heal—they often can’t be healed until the reversed blood flow in the veins is addressed and corrected.
Over time with varicose veins, skin over the veins can become thin and eventually expose the vein. When the vein is exposed, it can easily be injured by things like clothing or bedding. This spontaneous bleeding can cause significant blood loss, but is often painless.
Abbreviated ST, superficial thrombophlebitis is a condition marked by inflammation of a vein just below the surface of the skin. This isn’t caused by an infection, but rather by decreased blood flow through the vein, damage to the vein and blood clotting. ST may cause redness to the skin and a vein that’s firm, tender and warm. Leg pain and swelling may also occur.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
One of the more serious varicose vein complications, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition that can be associated with significant medical issues. It’s first identified by a pulling sensation in the calf of the lower leg and is often quite painful. Other symptoms include warmth, redness and swelling that can extend to above the knee. If you have any of the following characteristics, you’re at higher risk for developing DVT:
- Over 60 years old
- Recent surgery
- History of DVT
- Prolonged immobility or paralysis
- Blood clotting disorders
- Pregnancy and postpartum
If you’re diagnosed with DVT, your doctor may prescribe anticoagulation treatments to prevent the progression of a blood clot and stop it from traveling to the lungs. Clots that make it to the lungs can cause a pulmonary embolus, which can be fatal.
For more information on the complications of untreated vein issues, speak to your doctor.
“Untreated Conditions.” American College of Phlebology. http://www.phlebology.org/patient-information/conditions-treatments/untreated-conditions
“Complications That Can Arise From Varicose Veins.” Center for Vein Restoration. https://www.centerforvein.com/varicose-vein-complications/