Are Bulging Veins Dangerous?

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Many people notice enlarged, twisted, dark veins bulging under the skin of their legs and become concerned. While unsightly and uncomfortable, bulging veins are generally not dangerous for most people. However, in some cases, they can indicate an underlying medical issue that requires treatment. This article provides an overview of bulging veins, their causes, when they may be dangerous, and treatment options.

Are Bulging Veins Dangerous? Key Takeaways

  • Bulging veins (varicose veins) are often harmless cosmetic concerns, but in some cases can be related to dangerous blood clots or other complications.
  • Risk factors like family history, age, pregnancy, and obesity increase susceptibility to varicose vein formation. Prolonged standing and impaired vein valves also play a role.
  • Seek medical care promptly if varicose veins are accompanied by pain, bleeding, ulcers, redness, swelling or other troubling symptoms.
  • Doctors can check for underlying conditions and offer treatment options ranging from self-care strategies to procedures that close damaged veins.
  • Left untreated, varicose veins may progressively worsen, so it is important to monitor them regularly and get evaluated for any problematic changes.

What Are Bulging Veins?

Bulging veins, also called varicose veins or varicosities, occur when the valves inside the veins stop working properly. Veins have one-way valves that prevent blood from flowing backwards and pooling inside the veins. When these valves become damaged, blood collects in the veins, causing them to enlarge and twist. The pooling blood also causes increased pressure in the veins.

Varicose veins most often appear in the legs due to the effects of gravity, though they can occur elsewhere. They look like dark bluish or purplish veins raised above the surface of the skin. They may be lumpy, twisted, or bulging. In severe cases, the skin around varicose veins can become thin and irritated.

What Causes Bulging Veins?

There are several factors that can increase the risk of developing varicose veins:

  • Age – The valves in veins can weaken over time. Varicose veins are more common in older adults.
  • Sex – Women have a higher risk of varicose veins than men, partly due to hormone changes during pregnancy and menstruation.
  • Family history – Varicose veins can run in families. Genetics can affect the strength of vein valves.
  • Obesity – Extra weight puts added pressure on the veins in the legs and abdomen. This makes valve damage and varicosities more likely.
  • Prolonged standing – Standing immobile for long periods of time, such as with certain professions like teaching, nursing, hairdressing, retail, etc., increases the blood pressure in leg veins. Gravity makes it harder for blood to flow upward.
  • Pregnancy – Hormonal changes and increased blood volume during pregnancy often dilate veins and impair valve function. Varicose veins that develop during pregnancy often improve after delivery.

When Are Bulging Veins Dangerous?

For the most part, varicose veins are a cosmetic concern rather than a medical one. They do not typically indicate an underlying health condition. However, there are some situations in which bulging veins can be dangerous or lead to complications:

Blood Clots

People with varicose veins have a higher risk of developing blood clots within the veins, a condition called superficial vein thrombosis. The stagnant blood flow in the twisted veins increases clotting risk. Blood clots can limit blood flow to the heart and lungs and cause life-threatening conditions like deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism.


While rare, some varicose veins may bleed significantly if injured or burst under the skin. This is more likely with larger varicosities. Seek medical care immediately if you experience bleeding from a varicose vein.

Skin Ulcers

Over time, some varicose veins can exert so much pressure on nearby tissue that skin ulcers develop. Venous ulcers usually form near the ankles. They can be difficult to heal and may represent a serious complication of varicose veins.

Chronic Venous Insufficiency

Advanced varicose veins can progress to a condition called chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). Severe valve damage impairs blood return from the legs to the heart. Symptoms may include chronic pain, swelling, skin discoloration, and restless legs syndrome. CVI increases the risks of infection and leg ulcers.

When to See a Doctor About Bulging Veins

Consult your doctor if you notice any of the following warning signs related to your varicose veins:

  • Sudden onset of bulging veins
  • Significant pain or aching in the legs
  • Veins that bleed after injury
  • Venous ulcers near varicose veins
  • Swelling, tenderness, warmth or redness along veins (may indicate blood clot)
  • Discolored skin or rash near varicose veins
  • Restless legs, throbbing, muscle cramping, especially at night
  • Varicose veins that worsen during pregnancy

Getting an evaluation as soon as possible allows early treatment to prevent complications. Make sure to notify your doctor of any family history as well.

How Are Bulging Veins Treated?

If bulging veins are not causing complications, treatment may not be necessary. Wearing compression stockings can help improve comfort and appearance. Elevating the legs and avoiding prolonged standing can also minimize swelling and discomfort from varicose veins.

For problematic varicose veins, doctors can offer several treatment approaches:

Self-care strategies may include:

  • Wearing compression stockings to improve blood flow
  • Avoiding tight clothing around the waist and legs
  • Elevating the legs above heart level regularly
  • Exercise to improve circulation and leg muscle tone
  • Losing weight if overweight or obese

Medications like NSAIDs can relieve discomfort and anti-clotting drugs may be used to reduce blood clot risks.

Sclerotherapy involves injecting the vein with a chemical solution that scars and closes the vein so blood is rerouted to healthier veins.

Catheter procedures thread a thin tube into the damaged vein to deliver heat, chemical foam, or radiofrequency waves to collapse and seal off the vein.

Vein stripping surgically removes the affected vein through small incisions. This method is less used today.

For severe cases, a vascular surgeon may do a procedure to reroute blood flow through healthier veins.


Bulging, twisted veins under the skin may look alarming but are typically harmless. In some cases, they can lead to pain, blood clots, bleeding, leg ulcers, or other complications, so it is important to monitor any changes. See your doctor promptly if varicose veins cause worrisome signs or symptoms. A range of modern treatments can help eliminate damaged veins and improve both appearance and health.

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