Complications of varicose veins

This section looks at the long term problems caused by varicose veins.  

Many people who suffer from varicose veins do not experience any difficulties and do not require any treatment. They can manage their symptoms on a day to day basis without the need for medical treatment.

But complications do arise and if they do will require treatment as soon as possible.

It will be several years before any of these complications appear. They include:

  • Chronic venous insufficiency
  • Bleeding
  • Thrombophlebitis
  • Varicose eczema
  • Venous ulcers
  • Lipodermatosclerosis

Chronic venous insuffiency

This is also known as CVI for short: it is a medical condition in which the normal exchange of waste products, oxygen and nutrients between the skin and blood is disrupted.

This occurs if there is a problem with the blood supply, e.g. a fault valve in the vein or a blockage.

In the worst case scenario, this excess pressure and swelling affects even the tiniest of veins, e.g. the capillaries which causes them to burst. Inflammation and tissue damage develop and the skin becomes discoloured and hypersensitive to the touch.

But this inflammation can lead to the formation of open sores or ulcers which can become infected if left untreated. CVI can lead to other conditions such those listed above.


If you develop varicose veins near to the surface of your leg then these fragile looking veins may bleed if in contact with a heavy object. This includes banging your leg against a surface, bruising due to a contact sport or a cut or graze.

If you incur an injury which causes bleeding then takes steps to treat this. If this fails then obtain urgent medical advice as this type of bleeding can be difficult to stop.


This is a medical term for inflammation of the veins caused by a blockage or blood clot. This swelling occurs in the varicose veins and causes pain in the affected area.

The affected leg will have a reddish appearance and feel warm when touched. There may be a swelling in that area.

This can develop in any type of vein but if it occurs in the superficial veins it is known as "superficial thrombophlebitis". This means that it has occurred in veins visible near the surface of the skin.

Varicose eczema

You may be familiar with eczema but less so with varicose eczema. This is a form of eczema in which the skin on the legs is itchy, red and scaly and liable to flake off especially after contact.

This is causes when the pressure inside varicose veins builds up to such an extent that the veins bulge against the skin. This can damage the surrounding tissue and skin, leading to varicose eczema, skin ulcers and other related problems.

Venous ulcers

These are a type of ulcer which appears in the lower part of the leg, usually over varicose veins. It is caused by an increase in pressure and swelling of the damaged vein which releases fluid into the skin. This fluid collects in a pool under the skin and causes it to become thicker, coarser and inflamed.

This skin then breaks down to form an ulcer. These ulcers usually develop around the ankle.


This is the medical name for a scarring of the skin caused by varicose veins. It occurs gradually over the years and if left untreated can result in a venous ulcer.

It is characterised by a painful tightening of the skin which turns red or brown in colour and is smooth and shiny in appearance.

This condition usually develops in the calf area of the leg.

Another long term problem is deep vein thrombosis which is dealt with in a separate section.  

Guide to Varicose Veins

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