Those tangled blue varicose veins that can pop up on your legs as you age may be more than unsightly: New research suggests they might quintuple your risk of dangerous blood clots.
Known as deep venous thrombosis (DVT), these clots in the legs can be life-threatening if they travel to the lungs or heart, Taiwanese researchers said. Varicose veins are a common condition affecting about 23 percent of American adults, the researchers said.
"Patients with varicose veins may warrant careful monitoring and early evaluation," Chang added.Among a group of more than 425,000 people, half of whom had varicose veins, Chang's team found that the condition was associated with 5.3 times increased risk of deep venous thrombosis. Whether varicose veins cause the clots, or are a real risk for them, however, is not known, Chang said. More research is needed since the study did not prove that varicose veins cause the clots, he said.
"Not much is known about varicose veins and the risk for these other diseases," Chang said. "Elucidating potential associations between varicose veins and health-threatening diseases is important."
The researchers also found a trend for an increased risk of pulmonary embolisms or PE (clots in the lung) or PAD (narrowing of the leg arteries) among those with varicose veins, but they weren't able to tell if varicose veins were a real risk for these conditions.
For the study, Chang and colleagues used data from Taiwan's National Health Insurance program. Patients were enrolled in the database from 2001 to 2013, and they were followed through 2014. One weakness of the study is that insurance claims data do not include information on patients who don't seek medical care.
Therefore, the findings may apply only to risk among patients with more severe varicose veins who needed medical attention, the researchers explained.