For the majority of people affected by varicose veins, the condition is an inconvenience. For some, however, a painful swollen vein signals a serious problem. It could signal deep vein thrombosis, which occurs when a blood clot forms in the deeper veins of the legs as the result of injury or inactivity -- like a cross-country car ride. The blood clot could travel through the bloodstream to the lung and cause a potentially fatal pulmonary embolism [source: Parks].
Bleeding Varicose Veins
Enlarged veins with a twisted appearance just below the skin may keep you from showing off your legs, but sometimes there's more to this condition than meets the eye. In rare severe cases, varicose veins are as much a health concern as they are a cosmetic issue.
At the mild end of the spectrum, varicose vein symptoms include a feeling of heaviness or pain in the legs. But sometimes these symptoms can progress to more serious concerns, such as swelling, spontaneous bleeding or ulcers.
Complications like a ruptured varicose vein are very rare, but can be fatal because of rapid blood loss. Because varicose veins protrude from the leg and lie just under the skin, they may be more at risk for damage caused by a fall, bump or scrape [source: eHealthMD]. In addition, varicose veins may bleed more heavily than normal veins damaged under the same conditions. This is because blood flows through varicose veins with abnormally high pressure [source: eHealthMD].
If a varicose vein should begin to hemorrhage because it was damaged during a scrape or cut to the skin, it's crucial to immediately elevate the area and apply steady, firm pressure until the bleeding stops [source: Hejna]. Skin and tissue become more fragile with age -- making a cut to the skin more likely to damage the vein underneath -- so elderly people are at increased risk for hemorrhaging from leg injuries that would otherwise be minor concerns [source: Byard].
Skin ulcers can also lead to ruptured varicose veins and are a health complication all their own. Venous skin ulcers, also known as stasis leg ulcers, are wounds that develop on the skin. These wounds occur when leg veins fail to efficiently pump blood back to the heart. That's because these open sores develop where pooled blood has leaked from nearby veins, causing swelling and depriving the tissues of oxygen. These conditions cause a skin ulcer, which isn't life-threatening, but may not heal without medical treatment to the skin and underlying veins [source: WebMD].
If these worst-case scenarios have you thinking about heading for the nearest doctor, read on to learn about the range of varicose vein treatments.