Medical Complications That Can Accompany Varicose Veins

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Varicose veins are enlarged, twisted veins near the skin's surface. Generally, the veins in the legs and feet are affected. Although the condition doesn't always have serious health implications, some people are bothered by their appearance or the aching pain varicose veins can cause. Others may experience more serious medical complications.


Bacterial infections can occur when fluid builds up in the leg and causes skin problems. Anywhere the skin is broken gives bacteria an entry point. Often, bacteria enter through areas where swelling causes the skin to scale or crack.

Skin infections in the leg increase the risk of cellulitis -- a bacterial skin infection that can become serious if left untreated. Skin on the lower legs is the most common site of infection; however, in some cases, the infection spreads to the deep layer of tissue under the skin. Sometimes the infection spreads to the lymph nodes and bloodstream, where it carries the bacteria to other parts of the body.

Venous Bleeding

High venous pressure (blood pressure within the veins) in the legs can cause bleeding. Venous hemorrhage may occur from even a tiny break in the skin. Although the ankle is a frequent problem area, blood vessels anywhere in the leg can bleed.

Elevating the leg relieves pressure and stops the bleeding. Once the bleeding stops, the next step is to apply pressure to the site and seek immediate medical attention. Treatment normally involves injecting a dilute sclerosing solution into the small blood vessels surrounding the area that's bleeding. Injecting a sclerosing agent shrinks the vessels.

Blood Clots

When blood doesn't circulate the way it should, a blood clot can form in the leg, causing thrombophlebitis -- a complication associated with varicose veins. The affected vein may be near the surface of the skin or in a vein deep in muscle tissue.

Although people with varicose veins usually suffer superficial thrombophlebitis (inflammation of a vein near the surface of the skin), deep vein thrombosis (DVT) increases the risk of more serious complications, including pulmonary embolism or post-phlebitic syndrome. Symptoms of post-phlebitic syndrome include swelling, a feeling of heaviness, and severe pain in the affected leg.

Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI)

When the valves in the calf muscles and muscles in the feet are weakened or damaged, they allow blood to leak backward instead of pushing it upward. A condition known as chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) causes blood to pool in the leg veins. CVI and varicose veins often are co-existing conditions.

Chronic venous insufficiency does not go away on its own and may lead to serious complications without proper treatment. Venous stasis ulcers (open sores) can form when a swollen vein leaks fluid. Ulcers, swollen legs and ankles, and the appearance of new varicose veins can all be symptoms of CVI.

CVI worsens when pressure and swelling eventually cause capillaries in the legs to burst. This makes the skin near the affected veins more susceptible to injury. When CVI leads to ulcers on the skin of the ankles or legs, the sores don't always heal quickly. Unhealed venous leg ulcers can become infected and spread the infection to surrounding tissues. For more information about varicose vein treatment, visit