• Lymphedema
  • Varicose Veins & Lymphedema: How Are They Connected?

Varicose Veins & Lymphedema: How Are They Connected?

A person with varicose veins in their leg
A person with varicose veins in their leg

What Is the Link Between Varicose Veins and Lymphedema?

In many cases, lymphedema and chronic or worsening varicose veins present with similar symptoms. This may lead you to wonder whether lymphedema and varicose veins are connected. While lymphedema and varicose veins are two separate conditions, the symptoms of the two can overlap, and both conditions are related to the movement of fluid in the body.

In this article, we take a closer look at the link between varicose veins and lymphedema while touching on the symptoms and risk factors for each condition. Read on to learn more about varicose veins and lymphedema, or use the links below to skip to a specific question to learn more.

What Is Lymphedema?
What Are Varicose Veins?
How Are Varicose Veins and Lymphedema Connected?
Who Is at Risk for Lymphedema?
Who Is at Risk for Varicose Veins?
How Do You Treat Lymphedema?
How Do You Treat Varicose Veins?
Can Varicose Vein Treatment Cause Lymphedema?
Wrapping Up: Varicose Veins and Lymphedema

What Is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a medical condition that’s characterized by a buildup of lymph fluid, which can lead to swelling and pain in the affected body parts. Lymphedema stems from a disruption to the body’s lymphatic system, which regulates the movement of lymph fluid as it passes through lymph vessels and nodes. Damaged lymph vessels nodes can be a primary contributor to lymphedema, as damage to either can prevent the flow of fluid, leading to swelling and other symptoms.

It is also important to note that lymphedema comes in several forms. Primary lymphedema is a relatively rare genetic condition that is characterized by an underdeveloped or malformed lymphatic system. Secondary lymphedema, on the other hand, is much more common and can be caused by any direct trauma to the lymphatic system, including cancer treatment such as chemotherapy, surgery or radiation, acute injuries, obesity, or vascular disease.

Symptoms of Lymphedema

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of lymphedema so that you can identify the condition sooner rather than later. While lymphedema commonly manifests in the arms or legs, it can also impact your neck, chest, abdomen, and genitals. Some of the common lymphedema symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Swelling
  • Heaviness, fatigue, or aching of the area
  • Pitting edema
  • Limited range of motion
  • Difficulty standing or moving
  • Scarring or hardening of the skin
  • Frequent infections
  • Skin discoloration

What Are Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins refer to enlarged and twisted blood vessels. Since these blood vessels are located just beneath the skin’s surface, varicose veins are often very visible and will appear as purple or blue bulges. In most cases, varicose veins develop in one’s legs, ankles, or feet, yet they can form in other parts of the body as well.1

A person with varicose veins in their leg

Varicose veins are caused by the valves in blood veins becoming weak. Normally, these valves keep blood moving up the limb back toward the heart. However, when the valves are weak, either due to a genetic component or injury, this can cause blood to flow backward in the veins. The backflow will cause the veins to engorge with blood, resulting in the vein becoming enlarged and twisted. otherwise referred to as a varicose vein.

In general, varicose veins are not a cause for concern but rather a cosmetic issue. However, varicose veins can cause aching pain, itching, and discomfort. In some cases, varicose veins can eventually lead to more serious health problems, such as ulcers or blood clots.

Symptoms of Varicose Veins

Varicose veins can often be visually identified on one’s body. While varicose veins are not typically a serious health condition, it is important to recognize the symptoms so that you can monitor the condition and take action if your varicose veins begin to impact your quality of life or develop into a more serious issue. With that being said, some of the main symptoms of varicose veins include:2

Common symptoms as a result of varicose veins

  • Bulging or twisted veins
  • Veins that appear blue or purple
  • An itchy sensation around your veins
  • Heaviness in the feet or legs
  • Skin discoloration near your veins
  • Soreness, achiness, or pain in the legs
  • Persistent leg cramps, especially in the evening

How Are Varicose Veins and Lymphedema Connected?

While varicose veins and lymphedema are separate medical conditions, there are several ways in which they are similar. One of the main similarities these two conditions share is the fact that they both affect the circulation of fluid in the body. Varicose veins are the result of a problem with the circulation of blood in the body, while lymphedema indicates a problem with the body’s lymphatic system, which is responsible for circulating lymph fluid.

Additionally, varicose veins and lymphedema often present similar symptoms. For instance, both chronic or worsening varicose veins and lymphedema can cause heaviness in the limbs, pain and swelling, and skin discoloration. In certain cases, treatment methods for both of these conditions can also be similar. Your doctor may outfit you with compression wraps or sleeves to discourage swelling and promote fluid circulation within the body.

Who Is at Risk for Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is more common than many realize. Thus, it’s important to familiarize yourself with lymphedema risk factors so that you can identify this condition early on to take action. So, who is at risk for lymphedema? Common causes of lymphedema include:

  • Cancer, cancer surgery, and radiation
  • Infections
  • Genetic conditions impacting vessels or lymph nodes
  • Vascular disease
  • Physical injuries
  • Obesity
  • Lipedema and/or primary lymphedema

Lymphedema and varicose veins risk factors

Who Is at Risk for Varicose Veins?

While varicose veins are often treated as a cosmetic issue, they do have the potential to cause blood clots and create or exacerbate other health conditions, such as lymphedema. This is why it is important to understand the common risk factors and causes of varicose veins. Some of the potential causes of varicose veins can include:2

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Pregnancy
  • Family history
  • Obesity
  • Prolonged sitting or standing
  • Injury
  • Oral contraceptive pills or hormone replacement

How Do You Treat Lymphedema?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for lymphedema. However, there are several treatment options available that can help mitigate lymphedema symptoms, enabling you to manage the condition and maintain your quality of life. Below are a few of the available treatment options for those suffering from lymphedema:

  • Complete decongestive therapy (CDT): A complete decongestive therapy program approaches lymphedema treatment from multiple angles. This treatment combines massage techniques, specific exercises, education in proper skin care, and risk management to decrease skin infections, into a single comprehensive treatment program.
  • Pneumatic compression devices: Pneumatic compression devices such as the Flexitouch Plus system and the Entre system from Tactile Medical allow those with lymphedema to treat symptoms from the comfort of their own home. With the Flexitouch Plus system, you can decrease swelling and manage pain in various parts of your body.
  • Surgical treatment: Severe cases of lymphedema may call for surgery in order to be effectively treated. Procedures such as a vascularized lymph node transfer, a lymphaticovenous anastomosis, and liposuction can help to address certain cases of lymphedema.

As with any medical condition, prevention can help you slow down the progression of symptoms associated with lymphedema. While you may not be able to stop the onset of lymphedema altogether, you can minimize the progression of symptoms by taking preventative steps. If you are concerned about lymphedema, some of the preventative measures you can take include:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Protecting your skin with sunscreen, moisturizer, and/or antibiotic ointment
  • Avoiding tight-fitting clothing and jewelry
  • Changing sitting positions regularly
  • Scheduling regular checkups with your doctor

How Do You Treat Varicose Veins?

As with lymphedema, there are several treatment options available for varicose veins. Most varicose vein treatments are minimally invasive and aim to close off problematic veins while promoting blood flow across healthy veins. With that being said, treatment options for varicose veins include:3

  • Phlebectomy: Phlebectomy is a minimally invasive procedure that removes superficial varicose veins. It consists of making very small skin punctures along the vein in order to remove small sections of vein at a time.
  • Ablation: Ablation is a procedure that uses heat to close a vein, either through laser or radiofrequency energy.
  • Non-thermal treatment: Like laser treatment, non-thermal treatments like sclerotherapy are non-surgical procedures. However, rather than using a laser, a doctor will close off problematic veins by making several injections using an ultra-fine needle.

Can Varicose Vein Treatment Cause Lymphedema?

Certain surgical procedures, such as vein stripping, can potentially lead to lymphedema in some patients. This is because lymphedema can be caused by physical injuries and scar tissue that results from surgery. Infections that occur because of surgery can also potentially lead to lymphedema.

However, other treatment methods for varicose veins are less likely to lead to lymphedema. For example, some research suggests that non-invasive procedures such as laser treatment and sclerotherapy can minimize the risk of lymphatic complications occurring as a result of treatment.4

Wrapping Up: Varicose Veins and Lymphedema

Varicose veins and lymphedema are similar in that both conditions impact the circulation of fluids in the body and, in some cases, they present similar symptoms. Symptoms such as a heaviness of the limbs, pain, swelling, and skin discoloration can be caused by both of these conditions, yet varicose veins are accompanied by external signs that make it easier to distinguish between the two.

If you have been diagnosed with lymphedema or believe you are at risk of developing it, it is important that you take steps to reduce symptoms and manage your condition. Undergoing complete decongestive therapy, wearing compression garments, or even learning how to do a lymphatic massage can all help prevent and treat lymphedema.

In addition to the methods mentioned above, you might also consider trying out the Flexitouch Plus system or Entre System from Tactile Medical to treat and manage lymphedema symptoms. This system allows those dealing with lymphedema to target problem areas and obtain convenient at-home treatment. Reach out to our team today to learn more about how our research-backed products can help you find relief from lymphedema.

1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Varicose Veins. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/varicose-veins
2. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Varicose Veins. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/varicose-veins
3. Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Venous and Lymphatic Disorders. https://www.brighamandwomens.org/heart-and-vascular-center/diseases-and-conditions/venous-and-lymphatic-disorders
4. Vignes S. Treatment of varicose veins and limb lymphedema. J Mal Vasc. 2014 Feb;39(1):57-61. 2013 Dec 6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24315933/

Have questions?

Contact Us Today