Can Varicose Veins Burst?

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So you have varicose veins.

You are not alone! It is estimated that 1 in 10 men and 1 in 3 women suffer from chronic venous insufficiency, a condition that leads to varicose veins. By now, you may be familiar with the signs and symptoms of varicose vein disease. You certainly know how your legs feel at the end of the day… they might be tired, achy, painful, itchy, even restless when you try to go to sleep. You might wear compression stockings and may have put off getting your veins treated; maybe you’re worried about how much vein treatment cost or wonder if there’s anything that can be done at all. After all, your mom and grandpa had terrible varicose veins for as long as you can remember, and their doctors were unable to help.

Then one day, you begin shaving your legs while in the shower. While carefully passing the razor over one of your more prominent varicose veins, you accidentally cut your skin and begin to see a bit of blood. The drop turns into a trickle and then you realize, it’s not stopping. Moments later, you are standing in a watered-down pool of blood and panic starts to set in.

Did you burst a varicose vein?

You go to the emergency room where they stop the vein bleeding. You are given a referral to see a vein specialist and make an appointment for the following week as the remainder of this week is filled with meetings and other appointments. A few days later, you are in a cleaning frenzy, hurrying to vacuum prior to your dinner party guests arriving when suddenly, you bump your shin against the corner of the couch – hard. OUCH! You look down and your shin begins to discolor at an alarming rate. The varicose vein that lazily draped across your shin for so many years is now bright red, and the area is rapidly becoming discolored, you see red, purple little spots spreading across your shin.

This condition is known as spontaneous hemorrhage and can occur when a varicose vein bursts. Most commonly, spontaneous hemorrhage from a varicose vein occurs during or immediately following contact with warm water.

Why do varicose veins burst?

Remember water balloon fights when you were a kid? When you filled the balloons with a little water, they made excellent projectiles but did not pop, leaving your friends dry and as though they were invincible. Now, once you filled the balloons to the brink and threw them… the slightest impact creating the oh-so-satisfying drenching of your adversary. Why? Because as the balloon filled with water, the walls became thinner, less pliable and therefore more apt to burst.

So think of your veins as water balloons. Normal, healthy veins are like the half-filled balloons, they can endure impact (bumps), even on particularly stressful days (from a vein’s perspective that is), when you stand in place, especially in a warm environment and are particularly well-hydrated. However, because varicose veins are overfilled with blood, the walls are thinner, they are more fragile, and they are closer to the surface of the skin, making them prime targets for injury. And let me tell you, once a varicose vein starts to bleed, it’s a challenge to get it to stop.

My varicose vein burst, what do I do?

First don’t panic – I know, easier said than done! If you can see active bleeding from your vein, apply pressure to the wound. Raise your leg above the level of your heart and apply ice to the area. This may mean laying on your back and resting your foot against a wall. This should cause the vein bleeding to slow and eventually stop. If you are unable to stop the flow of blood, have someone take you to a local emergency room or seek care from your physician immediately.

How can I make sure this doesn’t happen to me?

The simple answer is early detection and treatment. If you have varicose vein disease, seek treatment from a vein specialist, also known as a phlebologist. Based on the severity and extent of your disease, your vein specialist will outline a personalized, minimally-invasive vein treatment plan which will include office-based procedures. Many of these vein procedures can be completed during your lunch hour, allowing you to return to work and most of your daily activities on the same day!
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When should I reach out to a vein specialist?

If you are reading this, chances are you know or suspect you have vein disease. If you experience any of these symptoms or have noticed these signs, you should schedule a consultation with a team that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of vein disease:

If you are feeling any of these leg symptoms:

    • Heaviness
    • Aching, pain, cramping
    • Throbbing
    • Itching
    • Leg Restlessness

    If you are seeing any of these physical signs:

    • Spider veins
    • Varicose veins
    • Venous ulcers*

    *Venous Ulcers are open wounds normally found around the ankle. They often heal and then re-open again until the cause is treated by a vein specialist.

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Medically Reviewed by

Adam Corrado
Dr. Adam D. Corrado combines his medical and surgical expertise with his extensive knowledge of vein disease to offer patients best-in-class treatment at Vein Clinics of America. Dr. Corrado earned his doctorate at The Chicago Medical School, interned at Yale University Hospitality of Saint Raphael, and completed his emergency medicine residency at USC. He now specializes in minimally invasive vein treatments, using foam sclerotherapy and thermal and adhesive ablation.

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