The Four Stages of Varicose Veins and How to Spot Them Early

four sets of legs showing stages of varicose veins
January 15, 2024 0 Comments

Varicose veins are more than just a cosmetic issue. They can indicate a chronic condition that affects the blood flow in your veins and can lead to serious complications. But this is something you can avoid if you know what to look out for. So, in this article, we’ll talk about

  • the four stages of varicose veins, and
  • how to spot them early.

Before we start – there are several treatments available if you ask for help. Seek a consultation with a vein specialist near you as soon as possible to ensure the best outcome. For example, if you’re in the Denver area, the staff at Denver Vein are specialists and would be pleased to help if you already know your veins are heading the wrong way! Otherwise, read on to find out more about the stages of varicose veins.

Of course, spider veins may be your first indication of trouble as they’re easy to spot. They’re not covered by insurance, and here, we’re going to focus on the next four stages of varicose veins.

Stage 1: Enlarged Varicose Veins At Least 3mm Wide

This stage of varicose veins shows more pronounced symptoms and physical changes than you see in spider veins. Characteristics include:

  • Enlarged, bulging, often blue or purple veins
  • Usually found in the legs, but possible in other body parts (chest, hands, and face specifically)
  • Discomfort that manifests as aching, throbbing, or a heavy sensation
  • Pain or muscle cramps in your legs, particularly after long periods of sitting or standing
  • Negative impact on skin health (itching, burning, or inflammation at this stage – but see later)

Treatment options for enlarged varicose veins depend on the severity of the condition:

  • Compression stockings (recommended in mild cases)
  • Endovenous Laser Ablation of the Saphenous Vein (ELAS)
  • Sclerotherapy
  • VenaSeal Closure System
  • Varithena
  • Ambulatory Phlebectomy

The insurance rules for how large your varicose veins need to be before insurance kicks in are changing. Be sure to check in with us before the rules change: This will be both cost-effective and the best health option!

Stage 2: Edema – When Swelling Becomes a Problem

Edema refers to swelling in your legs and ankles. and results from impaired circulation. It often serves as a warning sign indicating disrupted venous blood flow, suggesting chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).

Keep an eye out for edema symptoms such as

  • swollen tissue,
  • stretched or shiny skin,
  • skin that retains a dimple after being pressed, and
  • leg pain, cramps, numbness, or tingling sensations.

These are red flags and you should visit a vein specialist.

The causes of edema are varied, ranging from heart failure and kidney disease to medication side effects. However, when edema is accompanied by varicose veins, it often points to vein issues as the primary cause. Your vein valves are simply not working well enough to pump blood back to your heart against the pull of gravity.

Edema not only impairs the appearance and function of your veins but also raises your health risks because it

  • worsens their appearance and function, and
  • increases the chance of skin damage and infection.

When addressing edema your healthcare professional will determine the underlying cause and the best course of treatment. Options may include:

  • Reducing the amount of salt in your diet
  • Medications to help remove excess fluid
  • Wearing compression stockings
  • Elevating your legs above heart level for 30 minutes three or four times per day

These measures should alleviate symptoms and reduce the swelling associated with edema, ensuring immediate relief. But remember also to take action now to avoid moving further through the stages of varicose veins!

Stage 3: Skin Changes in Color and Texture

Do varicose veins get worse? It’s definitely possible! At our practice in Denver, we see many patients who have delayed coming in – for all kinds of reasons that sounded perfectly justifiable at the time. But it now means the stage of varicose vein damage is worse.

For example, skin changes. These can include darkening, thickening, hardening, or scaling of the skin, especially around your ankles.

What causes this is the buildup of blood and waste products in the tissues, which damages your skin cells and reduces oxygen supply even further. Skin changes can also make the skin more prone to injury and infection. Which leads us to the possibility of ulceration…

Stage 4: Ulcers and Ulceration

Ulcers are open sores that form on the skin, usually near your ankles. They’re caused by the breakdown of the skin tissue due to poor blood flow and lack of oxygen. Ulcers can be very painful and difficult to heal. They can also become infected and lead to severe complications, such as cellulitis, osteomyelitis, or gangrene. You don’t want this complication!

So – if you have any skin damage and fear your skin has become ulcerated, you should seek immediate medical attention. Your heart health may be affected and the blood flow in your veins is definitely severely compromised.

In such cases, treatment includes:

  • Wound care, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, or surgery for the skin and ulcers
  • Medical procedures for the varicose veins to remove them – such as Endovenous Laser Ablation of the Saphenous Vein (ELAS), Sclerotherapy, VenaSeal Closure System, Varithena, or Ambulatory Phlebectomy.

And yes, you can survive well without the varicose vein and its complications.

Stages of Varicose Veins: When to Seek Help From a Vein Specialist

You’ll have seen how varicose veins can lead to serious complications. Understanding the stages that worsening varicose veins go through – and how to spot them in their early stages – means you can take action to prevent deterioration.

Some people ask: What stage of varicose veins requires surgery? Actually, the preferred method of treatment these days is in-office treatment (as opposed to a surgery center) because it’s convenient, effective, and is cost-saving for patients. That’s why early detection and specialist care is so important.

However, the best way to find out which treatment is right for you is to consult a vein specialist who can evaluate your veins and recommend the most suitable way forward.

Denver Vein Center Can Help You Manage Your Vein Health

Don’t let your varicose veins progress through all these stages while you postpone making time for a consultation! We understand – it happens almost unnoticed in busy lives! But your overall health is our passion, so don’t hesitate to consult with us about your vein health.

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The Four Stages of Varicose Veins and How to Spot Them Early
Varicose veins are not just a cosmetic issue! Don't let them progress through these stages before getting medical attention. Learn why.