Could Varicose Veins Be A Sign Of Blood Clots?

Many people associate varicose veins with the bulging blue or purplish rope-like veins that appear on the surface of the legs. It’s easy to see why, since these twisted, enlarged veins are obviously visible. But in truth, a great deal of varicose vein disease occurs beneath the surface of the skin and isn’t visible. 

Still, because of the ropey, often nodular appearance of varicose veins that are visible, a common question patients have is if those nodule-like bumps are blood clots in their legs. Or, they wonder if having varicose veins means that they will be more likely to develop blood clots, either in the legs or elsewhere in their body.  

The short answer is no, varicose veins are not actually blood clots. However, venous disease can create the conditions for two different types of clots to form—superficial blood clots and deep venous blood clots, which are more dangerous.

Before describing the difference between the two, it is important to realize that the presence of varicose veins where blood doesn’t circulate normally is a risk factor for developing clots. Because the blood within varicose veins doesn’t circulate normally, patients with varicose veins have roughly twice the risk of developing deep vein clots in the legs compared to those without varicose veins.

However, it’s also important that we keep this in perspective. The average risk of developing deep vein blood clots in Americans is 1 person in 1,000 per year. The risk of a American with varicose veins developing deep vein clots is twice that high, i.e. 2 in 1000, or in other words, 1 in 500. So, your risk of developing blood clots even if you have varicose veins is still quite low.  

For those patients who actually have developed blood clots, however, this would be an additional good reason to consider having their varicose veins treated.

Finally, some few patients who never had varicose veins may develop a deep vein clot that causes large varicose veins to develop in the skin in order to bypass the obstruction in the deeper veins. It’s important in these cases that these patients be evaluated with ultrasound to understand why varicose veins developed.  

Superficial Vs. Deep Vein Blood Clots

Our veins have one-way valves that are meant to keep blood flowing from the legs up toward the heart. When these valves become damaged or weak—as they sometimes do with age, genetics, or for other reasons—blood pools in the veins, which builds pressure and inflammation. As a result, over time the veins become enlarged and twisted.

When varicose veins bulge and become twisted, the stagnant or sluggish blood flow can cause superficial—meaning just below the surface of the skin—blood clots. These are also known as superficial thrombophlebitis, or superficial venous thrombosis. 

The superficial blood clots that occur with varicose veins can add to symptoms of leg swelling, pain, tenderness, and redness around the affected vein. Superficial blood clots can become extremely painful, as one young mother discovered when she was in so much pain that she couldn’t get out of bed.

While superficial clots associated with varicose veins can be quite painful, they don’t usually travel to other parts of the body or organs, such as the lungs.

However, a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms in the deep veins of the legs, rather than the superficial veins just beneath the surface of the skin. DVT clots can be life-threatening. 

In the worst cases, a deep vein clot may break loose from the vein and travel to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism or other potentially life threatening condition that requires urgent medical intervention. 

DVT’s can be severely painful, although patients often first describe a “pulling” sensation in the calf. Other symptoms that may indicate a DVT include warmth and redness of the skin, tenderness, and swelling that extends up the leg above the knee.

The most important thing to keep in mind if you’re concerned about venous disease and blood clots is that varicose veins are a chronic and progressive condition. They do not go away on their own or improve over time. 

That said, the good news is that most complications from varicose veins are preventable with accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. There are many options for treating diseased veins and most procedures are minimally-invasive and are performed in less than an hour in a doctor’s office. 

If you’re concerned that your varicose veins may indicate a more serious medical problem or your symptoms are worsening, consult with a vein specialist at East Tennessee Vein Clinic without further delay. We can help you assess your risk for superficial blood clots or deep vein thrombosis.

At East Tennessee Vein Clinic, you’ll find the help you need so that you don’t have to suffer from symptoms such as swelling, aching, throbbing, heaviness, or restless legs. When our patients learn that today’s advanced treatments are quick and require little to no down time—plus are typically covered by insurance—they’re glad they didn’t delay treatment any longer.

As the first physician dedicated solely to the treatment of varicose vein disease in Tennessee, Dr. Douglass and East Tennessee Vein Clinic leads the region in experience and expertise of varicose veins. We treat varicose veins differently than other clinics precisely because of our dedication to treating the root cause and the full extent of each patient’s varicose vein disease.

Visit us online at East Tennessee Vein Clinic, or call 866-281-VEIN, or request an appointment online today. We are offering free vein screenings for new patients through December. Please inquire about free screenings when making your appointment.

“Your staff is very helpful and always I felt “well cared for.” I don’t see much way that you could improve the care and services. Thanks for your good service!”

- D. B., Maryville, TN