Varicose veins occur when blood pools in the veins and causes them to bulge, creating that often unsightly, ropy effect that you see near the surface of the skin on legs and ankles.
But varicose veins aren’t always visible and even if they are, they may not hit your aesthetic radar.
If you have varicose veins – visible or not – they may be perfectly harmless. On the other hand, they could lead to more dangerous medical complications.
That’s why it’s important to understand the symptoms and when it might be time to seek medical advice.
Not every visible vein is varicose. It’s common to confuse spider veins and varicose veins but they’re not the same thing.
Unlike varicose veins, spider veins do not pose a health risk even though they may keep you out of shorts in the summer. Both can be unsightly but their appearance is quite distinct.
When visible, varicose veins appear ropy and bulging. Spider veins, on the other hand, take their name from the effect they create, which can be web-like, with branches that spider off into multiple tendrils. They can be red or blue in color and are usually thin – much thinner than the cords associated with varicose veins, which tend to be blue and purple in color.
Spider veins can also appear just about anywhere on the body, including arms and legs, chest and face. Varicose veins appear primarily on the legs.
So if you see visible veins under your skin, take a moment to assess whether they are likely to be spider veins or varicose veins. Their color, appearance and location are all good clues.
If they’re thin, web-like and show up on your arms, face or chest, don’t panic! They may be an eyesore but a little cosmetic treatment can go a long way.
If you suspect varicose veins, however, it’s time to seek medical advice. Thick, ropy veins in your legs should have you looking for a medical professional. Remember, you don’t need to experience other symptoms to be at risk for medical complications.
Spider veins are always visible under the surface of the skin which is why we’re inclined to race for a dermatologist, but varicose veins may be seen or unseen. So how do you recognize varicose veins if you can’t see them?
Turns out there are other symptoms, too, and they can be easily overlooked or attributed to other causes.
Aching legs is a perfect example. Who among us hasn’t had aching legs at some point? A little too much standing on the job, carrying the kids around or even exercise make good culprits.
But if you experience this symptom in the absence of any real reason – or if you experience persistently aching legs that seem to get worse after long periods sitting or standing – that’s a good sign that it’s time to seek medical advice.
Other physical discomfort like cramping, swelling, burning or throbbing in your legs is a warning sign, too.
Another example of a common symptom that can be overlooked is itching. A dry winter can have the same effect, so you may be running for the moisturizer when you should really be calling your doctor.
Varicose veins can occur for a variety of reasons, from heredity to wearing high-heeled shoes too frequently. So if you understand the symptoms you’ll be prepared to look for treatment when you need it.
Recognizing symptoms of varicose veins can be as simple as noticing their appearance or as subtle as paying attention to a persistent, achy restlessness in your legs.
Either way, putting a call in to your doctor or a vein specialist early is a good idea. It can help prevent worsening symptoms and medical complications down the road.
Not all symptoms are created equal, though. If your legs suddenly become swollen and painful, call your doctor immediately. A suddenly swelling leg can be a sign of a blood clot and that can have serious consequences if left untreated.
Likewise, get medical attention if you have bleeding or broken skin or open sores around the veins, or if the area around the veins themselves becomes swollen or warm to touch.
And remember, if you’re at risk for varicose veins then it’s safest to take the “prevention” route and see your doctor for regular ultrasounds. An ultrasound can detect early signs of varicose veins and even those that may be invisible to the human eye. You don’t need to be symptomatic to get an ultrasound. It’s a simple, non-invasive test that can detect varicose veins before they become a problem.
That old cliché “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” made its way into common language for a reason!