Varicose veins: Clues to a deeper problem?

Leg veins that bulge just beneath the skin's surface are linked to a higher risk of deep-vein thrombosis.

Image: © gilaxia/Getty Images

Varicose veins are gnarled, bluish veins near the surface of the skin, usually on the legs and feet. Most people think of them as mainly a cosmetic problem, although varicose veins can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms, from a heavy, achy feeling in the legs to burning, throbbing, or itching sensations. Now, new research suggests that people with varicose veins may also have a higher risk of developing a clot in the deeper veins of the legs, known as deep-vein thrombosis or DVT.

"It's a good reminder for people with varicose veins to talk to their health care provider about their overall risk for vascular disease," says Dr. Gregory Piazza, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Most people with varicose veins won't experience a DVT. But it's still important to know the warning signs of this potentially dangerous condition (see "What is deep-vein thrombosis?") and to address any factors that might add to your risk, such as smoking, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol, he says.

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