By Yolanda Smith, BPharm
In addition to the several side effects of varicose veins, there are several complications that may occur. These complications are rare but, if present, usually develop several years after initial diagnosis for most patients.
The complication vary greatly in severity but some effects have the potential to be fatal, such as the possibility of pulmonary embolism occurring following deep vein thrombosis.
Phlebitis, also known as thrombophlebitis, refers to inflammation of the veins that may be accompanied by the formation of hard and tender clots. This is a distinct condition from deep vein thrombosis, however, and is markedly less severe and may not always require treatment.
This commonly results in symptoms of swollen, painful, reddened and heated skin due to the inflammation in the area.
Rarely, patients with varicose veins experience a significant knock to their legs, resulting in bleeding from the ruptured vein. This can be quite alarming for patients as a significant volume of blood can be lost in a short period of time as the blood flows backwards out of the vein.
However, this complication can be managed relatively easily with adequate care. Simply raise the area and apply firm pressure to the veins, which is usually sufficient to stop the immediate flow of blood. This can be followed by pharmaceutical care to reduce the risk of a subsequent bleed.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
In some cases, blood clots can form in varicose veins and lead to serious consequences such as pulmonary embolism. It is not clear if varicose veins are likely to cause DVT, but the two conditioners are certainly related.
The development of blood clots in superficial veins is the most common and up to 1 in 5 of these may progress into a thrombus of the deep vein in the leg. If DVT is suspected it is essential that the patient seek appropriate medical therapy to reduce the risk of embolisation and further damage.
If the blood flow remains disrupted for an extended period of time, it can affect the oxygen exchange and processing of nutrients and waste products, which is a condition known as chronic venous insufficiency. This then places the individual at a higher risk of other complications.
Dermatitis and Complications of the Skin
There are several complications of varicose veins that are related to the skin including:
- Varicose eczema - results in red, scaly and flaky skin in the affected area. Some blisters and crust on the skin may also form.
- Lipodermatosclerosis - is a more serious complication that leads to hardened and tight skin, which may change colour to red or brown. This usually occurs in the calf area of the legs and is often non-reversible.
A venous ulcer may develop in a patient with varicose veins, due to the increased venous pressure in the lower legs. This occurs as a result of fluid building up underneath the skin and causing the area to swell and create an ulcer, most commonly near the ankles.
In most cases, a small injury such as a bite or scratch take longer to heal due to the insufficient blood flow to the area, which is responsible for causing the ulcer.
Last Updated: Jul 20, 2015