Varicose Veins: Symptoms and Complications

Symptoms and risks associated with the varicose veins vary considerably from one individual to the next. Many people experience no symptoms or discomfort whatsoever, whereas others may suffer from considerable pain and skin discoloration.

Further, it is not uncommon for symptoms to be present for some time before varicose veins become visible. Typically, these symptoms may worsen after periods of prolonged standing or sitting.

Can varicose veins occur in areas of the body other than the legs?

Yes, they can develop in the rectum and are commonly called hemorrhoids or piles. They can also occur in other parts of the body such as the uterus (womb), vagina, pelvis, or esophagus, for example.

Common Symptoms

Most sufferers experience one or more of these symptoms:

  • Dull ache or “heavy” feeling in the legs
  • Throbbing sensation
  • Leg muscle cramping
  • Minor swelling, particularly in the lower legs and ankles
  • Visibly enlarged veins
  • Hyperpigmentation (brownish discoloration of the skin, particularly around the ankles)
  • Localized itching
  • Bleeding following a minor injury.

Rare Disorders of the Large, Deep Veins

Although rare, serious complications may arise if vascular obstruction occurs as a result of increased valvular dysfunction or deterioration in circulatory activity in the deep venous system. Although rarely associated with varicose veins, if present these symptoms call for immediate medical attention.

Each of the following conditions also requires immediate attention by medical professionals.


Edema is a result of incomplete blood circulation, where excessive fluid builds up in the tissues. Swelling and soreness can occur throughout the body, or may be limited to specific parts of the body such as the legs and/or ankles.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

DVT refers to a blood clot in a large vein. The blood clots may break away (embolize) and travel through the blood stream back to the heart where they then most commonly become lodged in the lungs. Warning signs and symptoms of deep vein thrombosis include sudden, localized pain in the thigh, leg or lower parts of the body, swelling and/or redness of the legs, hardening of the skin, hyperpigmentation, ulcers or fever. Such symptoms may indicate the presence of blood clots that require urgent medical attention!

Risk factors include immobilization (such as on long plane or car trips), pregnancy and the use of contraceptive pills containing estrogen.


Thrombophlebitis is the inflammation of a blood vessel and is associated with the formation of blood clots. This may occur, for example, as a result of local irritation or infection in or near a vein, such as the site where an IV line has been inserted.


Phlebitis is a chronic inflammation of the vein.

Stasis Dermatitis

Stasis dermatitis refers to changes in the skin caused by fluid build-up under the surface of the skin. Changes may include scaly, itchy skin, hyperpigmentation, sores and ulcers.

Pulmonary Embolism

A pulmonary embolism is an obstruction of a blood vessel in the lungs, usually due to a blood clot that has migrated there. Most cases of pulmonary embolism are a result of deep vein thrombosis.