Are Varicose Veins a Health Risk?

The truth is, most varicose veins are completely harmless — except for the hit your ego takes when you put on a pair of shorts and reveal the ropey lines making tracks of blue, red, or purple up and down your legs. But there are times when these visible veins can be signs of something more concerning.

The only way to know for sure what you’re dealing with is to get them checked out by a medical specialist. Vein care is one of my specialties, and I have more than three decades of experience under my belt, including serving as the chief surgeon for President Ronald Reagan and former South African president Nelson Mandela.

Today, you can find me at Louisiana Cardiovascular and Thoracic Institute, where I use my skills and advanced technology to help people understand and overcome their venous problems so they can stay healthy and active throughout their lives.

Unfortunately, people generally don’t think about their vein health until it becomes a serious problem; but once you learn a few basics, there’s a lot you can do to prevent damaged veins. For most of my patients, the first sign of venous insufficiency is the appearance of varicose veins, and the first question they ask is: Are varicose veins a health risk? Here’s what I tell them.

Understanding varicose veins

Before we talk about whether or not your varicose veins are a health risk, let’s define what they are and what causes them.

When your heart pumps out blood, arteries carry it to locations throughout your body delivering oxygen-rich nutrients. Your veins carry the blood back to your heart so the process can repeat. Inside your veins, you have tiny one-way valves that prevent backflow when the blood is traveling upward against gravity — like in your legs.

If those valves falter or fail completely, blood begins to pool in place, bulge out, and show through the surface of your skin, and voila, you have varicose veins.

Several factors cause varicose veins: some are unavoidable and some are preventable. The culprits include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Pregnancy
  • Taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • Aging (50 or older)
  • Taking birth control pills
  • Going through menopause
  • Standing for long periods of time

Genetics also plays a role in whether or not you get varicose veins, so if your mom or dad has them, there’s a good chance you will, too.

When varicose veins become more than a cosmetic problem

Now that you know what varicose veins are and how you got them, we can delve deeper into the potential problems they cause. When you come to see us with questions about your varicose veins, the first thing we do is run a few tests to find out if there’s anything going on under the surface that doesn’t meet the eye.

We may use ultrasound or a venogram (an injection of dye), but either way, we’re looking for blood clots that have formed. While varicose veins in and of themselves aren’t a worrisome medical issue — blood clots are. Here’s what we’re looking for:

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Clots that form in the veins deep within your body are called deep vein thrombosis, and they pose a serious health threat. Unlike varicose veins that are close to the surface and easily visible, DVTs are hidden and often asymptomatic. If symptoms do appear, they include brown discoloration, skin that’s hot to the touch, and painful swelling.

Post-thrombotic syndrome

When DVT symptoms persist for six months or more (sometimes for the rest of your life), it’s called post-thrombotic syndrome. This chronic condition causes long-term pain, swelling, itching, cramping, even skin ulcers.

Pulmonary embolism

One of the worst complications of venous insufficiency and varicose veins is the development of a pulmonary embolism. This occurs when a blood clot in your vein breaks off and travels to your lungs. If the clot is large enough to block the flow of blood to your lungs or other vital organs, the results can be serious or fatal.

Treating varicose veins

Whether your varicose veins are just an annoyance or a potential medical problem, I can get rid of them for you. One of the primary treatments I use is called endovenous laser treatment (EVLT). Here, I make a tiny incision just large enough to insert a slim catheter. Then, painless ultrasound waves seal off your damaged veins, so the blood can be redirected to healthier veins. Eventually, your old damaged veins die and shrink, and your body absorbs and flushes them away.

In some instances, I may opt for endoscopic vein harvesting to remove the damaged vein completely. If the vein needs to be replaced, I can harvest one from another part of your body to keep your blood running smoothly and efficiently.

If your varicose veins are causing you emotional distress or physical pain, it’s good to know you have options. I encourage you to call our Alexandria, Louisiana, office to make an appointment or request one online today. You can be ready for summer if you start now