Time and time again, I consult with a patient who tells me that they have put off treatment of their varicose veins as they thought it was merely a cosmetic problem and did not want to come across as just being a “vain” individual.
In that token, after taking a complete and detailed history, examining them and completing a duplex ultrasound, I often find that their varicosities have become quite complex, profound and show signs of early complications like permanent skin changes setting in.
If they had come in earlier, they would likely require less treatment and have no permanent skin changes often seen with chronic venous insufficiency.
For this very reason, I feel it is extremely important to look at the symptoms of varicose veins and discuss what happens as they progress. I have already covered the difference between varicose veins and spider veins in a previous blog here.
Symptoms of varicose veins in the limbs, listed from most common to non specific (non- specific meaning they could be as a result of other conditions and not just due to a venous or vein disorder):
- Heaviness and tiredness
- Pain and aching
- Cramps (Non specific)
- Restless legs (Non specific)
Individuals who are at risk of developing veins:
- Have a strong family history of varicose veins, ulcers, clots or blood disorders. Often a parent or sibling will also have varicose veins. This implies that from birth, the valves within the veins are weakened and have a tendency to impair blood return through the veins.
- Have had children. During pregnancy, veins tend to distend, but after delivery, they tend to go back to their original state. Often with multiple births, the veins tend to distend and blood flow gets impaired giving rise to varicose veins.
- Lifestyle risks, such as occupations involving standing for long periods. This includes those who work in restaurants, cafes, teachers, nurses, police officers, factory or mining workers and essentially any occupation where you are on your feet for extended periods of time. Those who sit for long periods in the same position are also at risk, as well as very tall individuals. Professional sports players also have a tendency to develop varicose veins due to their intense exercise routines.
- Hormones, especially in women. Symptoms of varicose veins are often worse just before women get their period because of the hormonal influence on veins. The progesterone hormone tends to decrease the venous tone of veins making them more likely to bulge and distend. Women taking the oral contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy are also at risk for similar reasons.
- Obesity has a very strong correlation with developing varicose veins.
- Smoking is a strong predisposing factor for varicose veins.
If varicose veins are treated early, then this prevents them from progressing to more chronic disease forms.
Some of the features and complications that arise as varicose veins progress include:
- Spider veins that are visible on the skin in a variety of patterns
- Green veins visible through the skin known as reticular veins
- Larger bulging varicose veins
- Swelling that settles initially by lying down or wearing stockings, but later fails to settle
- Pigmentation or discolouration
- Eczema over a region, commonly the lower leg (itchiness of the skin)
- Scarring of the skin with thickening (often darker but can be white)
- Ulcer formation (wound formation – Either in one region or spreading)
As you can see from above varicose veins are not merely a cosmetic concern for “vain” people, but can progress into a more chronic state when left untreated. Considering that more than one third of the population have varicose veins, it is important to identify it early and seek treatment before symptoms get worse and complications set in.
I hope this has shed some light on what to expect with varicose veins from a symptom point of view, as well as the risk and complications associated with it.
If you need any clarification or are unsure if you may have progressive venous disease, feel free to contact us at Doctor Vein and make an appointment with our medical team today.