The Dangers of Leaving Varicose Veins Untreated

Varicose veins, the ropy cord-like veins that bulge beneath the skin, are common enough, especially when age, weight, pregnancy, and heredity are factors. But just because they are common and frequently harmless doesn’t mean they should be left untreated.

There are people with varicose veins who are lucky to experience no pain or discomfort with their milder cases. However, many patients suffering from varicose veins will find that the condition can cause itchiness in the areas around the bulges, and that varicose veins in the legs often lead to leg discomfort and fatigue, as well as pain and swelling of the skin. These symptoms can be alleviated by wearing compression stockings and elevating the legs, or losing weight, but the varicose veins and the negative effects won’t go away on their own.

Because varicose veins are caused by weakened venous walls, causing blood to pool in the lower extremities, nothing can be done to re-strengthen the veins. Therefore, a licensed vascular surgeon or vein specialist should be consulted for treatment.

So what are the actual dangers of untreated varicose veins?

The most serious and extreme effect of varicose veins would be deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot that could move through the body and cause a life-threatening pulmonary embolism.

In other cases, untreated varicose veins could lead to a hardening of the tissues in the legs known as lipodermosclerosis, caused by inflammation of the tissues surrounding the varicose veins. Lipodermosclerosis leaves sufferers with heaviness in the legs and a painful tenderness.

Because the venous walls are weak, untreated varicose veins can also seep blood into the surrounding tissues, which will inflame the tissues and cause a dark discoloration known as hyperpigmentation. This is not merely a superficial condition, as the blood seepage can cause the inflammation that leads to lipodermosclerosis. On top of this, the varicose veins can actually lead to the surrounding skin becoming not only sensitive but fragile and easily broken. Because the blood has already been pooling in the varicose veins, a simple scratch or bump could lead to excessive blood loss if untreated.

Similarly, the skin can break down around the untreated varicose veins, causing venous leg ulcers. Imagine a bed sore on the legs to get an impression of what can happen if left untreated. This is almost always a result of prolonged untreated varicose veins leading to a condition called chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), which includes long term fluid buildup in the swollen tissues surrounding the varicose veins. If an ulcer develops, it is best to see your doctor immediately for treatment.

If you have any of the above symptoms persisting, don’t wait to consult your vascular surgeon or venous specialist. In the case of suspected deep vein thrombosis, go to emergency care immediately.

The good news is that varicose veins are easily treatable, usually involving a short office visit to receive sclerotherapy—a series of injections of sclerosant, which damages the inside lining of the vein. The subsequent scarring causes the vein to close. Because varicose veins are a medical condition that can have very harmful effects if left untreated, most health plans will cover the procedure. For more information on sclerotherapy for treatment of persistent varicose veins or to schedule an appointment, contact us at 760-944-9263 or visit us at