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Varicose Veins and Deep Vein Thrombosis: What’s the Connection?

If you have varicose veins, you could be at a greater risk of developing potentially dangerous blood clots.

Is the pain, swelling, and cramping of varicose veins a sign of a deeper problem? In the majority of cases, varicose veins don’t pose a serious medical threat. Yet those protruding veins on your legs and feet could indicate an underlying issue. That’s why it’s important to have your varicose veins checked by a specialist.

Specifically, varicose veins have been linked to an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that forms deep within the leg. If the blood clot is not treated early, it could travel to the lungs and cause a dangerous pulmonary embolism (PE). 

Here’s what you need to know about what causes DVT, its symptoms, and its connection to varicose veins.

The Link Between Varicose Veins and DVT

In 2018, Taiwainese researchers studied more than 212,000 varicose vein patients to determine if there was a connection between varicose veins and a higher incidence of DVT. The study concluded that the presence of varicose veins increased the risk of DVT by five times. The researchers stressed, however, that the findings indicated an association between the two disorders, not whether varicose veins cause DVT.

Both conditions arise from a malfunction in the circulatory system. Varicose veins develop when tiny valves in the veins lose their elasticity and strength, leaving them unable to push blood back to the heart. The volume of blood therefore builds up in the veins and forces the vein walls to press against the skin. The result is swollen varicose veins that cause pain, skin changes, cramping, and tired legs.

When veins become clogged, circulation slows, which can trigger a blood clot in a superficial leg vein. Superficial thrombophlebitis or phlebitis isn’t a serious medical condition, but it can cause a bump, pain, swelling, redness, and tenderness in the affected area of the leg. 

Fortunately, a superficial blood clot rarely breaks away and lodges in the lungs. On the other hand, if a blood clot develops in a vein deeper within the leg, it could migrate to the lungs and block blood flow, subsequently causing a life-threatening PE.

DVT symptoms include pain, swelling, and cramping, typically in one leg, as well as red-colored skin and a feeling of warmth when you touch the skin. A PE, meanwhile, is characterized by difficulty breathing, chest pain, a bloody cough, rapid pulse, and lightheadedness. If you experience PE symptoms, you should go to the nearest emergency room for treatment.

Although the study found a link between varicose veins and DVT, additional causes of DVT include an inherited disorder that increases the body’s clotting mechanism, being immobile after surgery or an injury, and sitting for long periods during a plane or car ride. The latter two factors, in particular, mean your calf muscles are still and, therefore, aren’t encouraging the veins to contract and return blood to the heart.

Testing & Treatments

If your doctor suspects you have a blood clot, he or she will record your symptoms and perform a physical examination. An ultrasound that uses sound waves to get an image of your veins can identify the presence of a clot. A blood test to detect an elevated level of D dimer may also confirm a DVT diagnosis.

DVT is initially treated with blood-thinning medications. These drugs don’t dissolve the clot, but they can keep it from growing bigger and prevent others from forming. In severe cases of DVT, medications to bust up the clot may be injected into the vein. Individuals who cannot tolerate blood thinners can be fitted with a filter placed in the vena cava, a large vein in the abdomen. The filter will catch a breakaway clot and block it from reaching the lungs.

In addition to a PE, DVT could also produce a condition called postphlebitic syndrome. This disorder results from impaired blood flow related to damage from a blood clot. It is marked by edema (swelling in the leg), pain, skin sores, and discoloration.

If you’ve been treated for DVT or are at high risk for the condition, your doctor will regularly monitor your health and medications. You can also follow some prevention tips such as staying active, losing weight, and quitting smoking. Wearing compression socks during a long plane trip or day at the office can improve blood circulation. Lastly, if you have varicose veins or another risk factor for DVT, consider undergoing one of several minimally invasive procedures to eliminate varicose veins.

We’re Here to Help

DVT is a serious medical condition and its symptoms should not be ignored. At Siragusa Vein and Laser, our medical staff specializes in venous disorders, including varicose veins, DVT, and peripheral artery disease. We work with each patient to craft a treatment plan that improves quality of life with surgical therapies or conservative methods. Contact us today to set up a free vein screening.

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