How do varicose veins develop will help us discover is varicose veins life threatening? Veins have the job of taking blood back to the heart. Blood moves from the superficial veins (found just under the skin) through perforator veins to the deep veins in the leg muscles.
Because the leg veins are working against gravity, they have one-way valves inside them to prevent the backflow of blood. Your leg muscles also help blood to flow the right way – when they are used, as in walking, they act as a pump, sending the blood in the veins up to the heart.
If the walls of leg veins lose their elasticity and weaken, the valves can stop functioning properly. This means that blood can flow backwards and pool in the veins, causing them to swell and become varicose. Varicose veins usually affect the superficial leg veins (the veins just under the skin).
Is Varicose veins life threatening?
In general, varicose veins are not life threatening. However, some people experience significant discomfort associated with their varicose veins. Skin changes can also occur, including discolouration of the skin over the veins.
Occasionally, people with varicose veins develop ulcers on the legs, usually near the ankles. These ulcers can be extremely painful and take a long time to heal.
A blood clot and inflammation in the varicose veins is another possible complication. This is known as thrombophlebitis. Bleeding from varicose veins is another possible, but rare, complication.
What causes varicose veins?
The exact cause of varicose veins is not known. However, there seems to be a genetic link, meaning you are more likely to have them if one of your parents was affected.
It’s also thought that female sex hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) can sometimes play a part in veins becoming dilated (widened).
Having previously had a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) also seems to play a role in the development of varicose veins in some people. If you’ve had a blood clot in one of the deep veins of the legs, the valves in that vein may be damaged. This can increase the pressure in the superficial veins, causing widening and the development of varicose veins.
Factors that can increase your chances of developing varicose veins include:
- increasing age;
- family history of varicose veins;
- being overweight;
- being female; and
- standing still or sitting for long periods of time.
If you have a job where you are required to stand up most of the time your risk of developing varicose veins is higher. Previous injury to the legs can also increase your risk.
Treatment for varicose veins
Many people don’t need any specific treatment for varicose veins other than self-care measures. However, without treatment, varicose veins do tend to get worse with time. One exception to this is varicose veins that develop during pregnancy, which generally get better within several months of the birth.
The aim of treatment is to ease symptoms, improve appearance and prevent complications such as leg ulcers. Varicose veins can usually be successfully treated, but new varicose veins are still likely to develop over time.
These days there are several non-invasive or minimally-invasive treatment options for varicose veins. These can be done as outpatient procedures and don’t have a long recovery time, so are often recommended instead of surgery.
Talk to your doctor about treatment options and which type of treatment would be best for you. If necessary, your doctor will refer you to a specialist – several specialists offer treatments for varicose veins, including surgeons, dermatologists (skin specialists) and phlebologists (vein specialists).