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Suffer From Varicose Veins? Study Shows Link To Blood Clots

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Spring officially arrives this week, and that means we can soon start shedding some layers of clothes.

But some people dread exposing their bare legs. About a quarter of the population has them, and many find them to be unsightly. New research is now drawing a connection between varicose veins and an increased risk of blood clots.

In HealthWatch, we looked at the complications that can come from those bulging veins. Dr. Joseph Karam is a vascular surgeon for Allina Health. He treats patients with complications from varicose veins. He showed us photographs of what they typically look like.

"This is the typical appearance of a large varicose vein. We can see them in the back of the knee or down in the calves," Dr. Karam said.

It's the kind of thing you hope no one notices, but in some cases varicose veins are hard to ignore because they're painful.

"The problems are usually related to achiness in the legs, tenderness over the actual varicose veins. Patients will tell me it hurts at the end of the day over that one spot over the vein," Dr. Karam said.

That's what Maggie Dukinfield experienced, as well as the challenge of trying to hide them.

"I would try to cover them up sometimes. I would even put on makeup sometimes to try to cover them up," Dukinfield said.

Varicose Veins
(credit: CBS)

Maggie is a nurse who spends a lot of time on her feet. That's one of the factors that can cause varicose veins or worsen them.

That, and pregnancy.

"They're noticeable, my children noticed them. They'd point them out.  'Mommy has an owwweee on her leg,'" Dukinfield said.

Maggie underwent a non-invasive surgical procedure to get rid of the varicose veins in her calves. You can barely see them anymore, and she's pain-free.

She also wears compression socks now, which are highly recommended by doctors to improve the circulation of blood in the legs.

They help keep blood from pooling in the veins.

"I'm just wearing plain black ones, they come in lots of different colors. You can find them online," she said.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found people with varicose veins may have a higher risk of developing potentially dangerous blood clots in veins that are deep into the body.

It's a condition called deep venous thrombosis, or DVT.

Dr. Michael Hu is a vascular surgeon at Hennepin County Medical Center.

"I think the value of the research is that there is probably a stronger association between varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis than we previously thoughT," Dr. Hu said.

He reviewed what researchers found when they looked at the health records of more than 425,000 people in Taiwan. He says the findings don't mean there's evidence that varicose veins cause blot clots, but, "Because it covers such a large population of people, I think it adds weight to the fact we need to study it more," Dr. Hu said.

And become aware of when you should see a doctor.

"If you have sudden increase in your leg size, it's swollen, it's red, it's painful, this is an emergency and you need to get medical care," said Dr. Karam.

Doctors say that varicose veins typically become more problematic as you age.

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