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Are Varicose Veins a Health Risk?

Varicose veins are rarely life-threatening, but that doesn’t mean they’re risk-free. Roughly 40 million adults in the United States are living with these bulging, distorted, bluish-purple veins, typically on their legs. 

Most people who have them are concerned with how the veins look, but it’s important to know that their aesthetic appearance isn’t the only issue. Take a moment to learn how varicose veins can affect your health. 

What exactly are varicose veins?

Veins have one-way valves that keep blood flowing toward the heart. In people with varicose veins, these valves are weak or damaged, no longer pushing the blood forward. Instead, it can pool in one place, or even flow backward. The pooling blood increases the pressure in your veins, causing them to swell and take on the twisted, rope-like appearance of varicose veins. 

These veins commonly develop in the legs but can occur in other parts of the body, including the stomach, esophagus and testicles. For example, hemorrhoids are varicose veins that develop in the lowest part of the rectum.

People with varicose veins feel concerned with how the affected area appears. In fact, patients with varicose veins on their legs commonly report feeling less confident in the appearance of their legs and may avoid wearing clothing that allows them to show. 

Who gets varicose veins?

Anyone can get varicose veins, but they’re more common in people who are overweight, have high blood pressure, or have a family history of the condition. Sitting or standing for long periods and leading an inactive lifestyle increase your risk as well. These veins are also more likely to appear during pregnancy or after childbirth. 

Health risks of varicose veins

Here at West Coast Medicine and Cardiology, we want patients to look beyond the aesthetic aspects of varicose veins.

Cardiologist Dr. Rajesh Sam Suri and our team work with patients to create an individualized treatment plan and address concerns related to their varicose veins. We’ve put together information to familiarize patients with how varicose veins may impact their health.


Because varicose veins are large and swollen, they can sometimes burst, causing bleeding. It usually isn’t serious, though some people can experience heavy bleeding. Since varicose veins are near the surface of the skin, they can easily rupture and bleed from minor bumps or cuts to the skin. 

Leg ulcers

Varicose veins are a sign of venous dysfunction. Venous disease can cause skin ulcers — open sores that are slow to heal or don’t heal properly. Fluid buildup surrounding varicose veins increases the pressure and can cause the skin to break.

Skin ulcers are dangerous due to exposure to bacteria. They can easily become infected and lead to further health complications. 

Blood clots

Varicose veins increase the risk for blood clots. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) develops when blood clots form in the deep veins within the body. These blood clots can break loose and travel through the bloodstream, causing a blockage in the lungs (a pulmonary embolism). 

This potentially life-threatening condition can lead to serious problems, including lung damage, and harm other organs. Prompt treatment reduces the risk of death.

Superficial thrombophlebitis

While not as dangerous as blood clots that form in deep veins, blood clots can form just below the surface of the skin and cause inflammation, a condition known as superficial thrombophlebitis. It usually occurs in the legs but can occur in the arms and even the neck. 

In people with superficial thrombophlebitis, the veins become inflamed and can harden, leading to other circulatory issues and worsening the pain and tenderness. 

Most varicose veins pose little risk to your health. However, the risk of health problems rises if your varicose veins aren’t treated. Don’t ignore unsightly varicose veins. Treatment can help you avoid discomfort and the potential for serious health problems.

Visit West Coast Medicine and Cardiology, a leading center for vein disease treatment. Call 510-244-4280 to schedule an appointment at our Fremont, California, office or 510-398-2273 to request an appointment at our Hayward, California, locations. You can also send us a message here on our website. 

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