Bulging Veins (Varicose Veins)

If you notice bulging veins, especially on your legs, you probably have varicose veins. Varicose veins are twisted, enlarged veins near the surface of the skin. Spider veins are more subtle varicose veins that resemble a spider’s webs.

Not everyone who has these conditions will have bulging veins, but varicose veins often look like they’re popping out of your skin. Bulging veins might seem alarming, but they’re mostly harmless. They may cause your legs to feel heavy or achy, and in some cases can lead to complications like blood clots or chronic swelling.

Continue reading to learn more about bulging veins, including causes, prevention, how to treat varicose veins and more. 

vericose veins on woman's legs

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Symptoms of Bulging Veins

Having veins that bulge out above the surface of the rest of your skin is one symptom of varicose veins. Bulging veins are most often seen on the backs of the legs, particularly at the knees and below. They look like swollen cords, and have have a blue, purple color.

While bulging veins might be the most noticeable symptom, people with varicose veins usually have other symptoms first, including:

  • Skin color changes, especially areas of blue, red, or pink
  • Tightness, soreness, heaviness, burning, or aching in the legs
  • Itching on the legs
  • Rash on the legs
  • Sores or swelling on the legs

Over time, the same underlying abnormality that can lead to bulging veins may also lead to swelling in the legs. If you begin having swelling, talk to your healthcare provider.

Causes of Bulging Veins

Bulging veins and other types of varicose veins are caused when the valves in the underlying veins are not working.

When you stand, the blood can flow toward your feet (it should go toward your heart) and because of gravity, the veins can dilate. This can cause the veins near your skin to enlarge, and therefore you develop the bulging varicose veins.  

Although this sounds startling, it’s very common. By the age of 50, about 40% of females and 20% of males will have varicose veins.

How to Treat Bulging Veins

Bulging veins don’t always need treatment. However, there are treatment options available that can help reduce symptoms, improve the appearance of your veins, and prevent complications like ulcers or swelling. You should work with your healthcare provider to determine what treatment, if any, is right for you. 

Lifestyle Adaptations

Certain lifestyle changes or adjustments can help prevent and alleviate varicose veins. These include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight: Having a higher body weight puts you at increased risk for varicose veins. 
  • Staying active: Getting regular exercise and avoiding long periods of sitting or standing can keep your veins healthy. 
  • Elevating your feet: When possible, elevate the feet above the heart. If you have severe bulging veins, do this for 15 minutes three or four times a day.
  • Wearing compression stockings: Compression stockings provide pressure to the legs, which keeps blood from pooling. These are a particularly good option for pregnant people who have temporary varicose veins.

Medical Procedures for Varicose Veins

If your veins bother you or pose a health risk, you healthcare provider might suggest medical procedures including:

  • Sclerotherapy: During this nonsurgical procedure your healthcare provider will inject a sclerosing (scarring) agent into your veins. After that, the veins will no longer carry blood, so it can’t pool. Other veins in your leg will compensate for the veins that aren’t in use any more. This is the most common treatment for varicose and spider veins. 
  • Thermal ablation: This procedure uses heat generated by a coil and laser to close off the veins with the leaky valves.
  • Vein stripping: This is surgery to remove the bulging veins entirely. 
  • Microphlebectomy: This is a procedure in which veins are removed through small incisions. This can be done with vein stripping or alone. 

Varicose veins can reappear after treatment. Some preventive measures like exercising and maintaining a healthy weight may help, but oftentimes the reappearance is linked to genetics.

Complications and Risk Factors Associated With Bulging Veins

In most cases, bulging veins are harmless. Still, there are some complications that you should be aware of:

  • Bleeding: If you notice bleeding from varicose veins, place pressure on the bleeding area. If it does not stop promptly, call 911.
  • Ulcers: Ulcers are sores that take more than two weeks to heal. Venous insufficiency may raise your risk of ulcers, which could put you at increased risk for infection. If you have an ulcer, talk with your healthcare provider.
  • Swelling: Swelling can be uncomfortable. If you start experiencing leg swelling, see a healthcare provider. 

Diagnosis

Healthcare providers diagnose bulging veins or varicose veins through a physical exam. Be sure to let them know about any symptoms you’re experiencing, including swelling, heaviness or sores. 

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Although most people don’t have complications from bulging veins, some people find them unsightly. If you’re self-conscious about your bulging veins, talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options that might reduce the appearance of the veins. 

In addition, see your provider if you have alarming symptoms or changes to your symptoms, including:

  • Bleeding
  • Chest tightness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Light-headedness
  • Wounds or sores that are slow to heal

Summary

Bulging veins are a sign of varicose veins. They occur when blood pools in the veins of the leg. In most cases, varicose veins are not concerning. However, they can cause aches, itching and soreness. In addition, some people find them unpleasant to look at. Treatments, including lifestyle changes and medical procedures, can help you avoid bulging veins and minimize the symptoms when they do occur. 

A Word From Verywell

Varicose veins are very common. While they may be uncomfortable there are many treatment options. If yours bother you physically or emotionally talk with your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes bulging veins?

    Bulging veins, medically known as varicose veins, are caused by blood pooling in the veins near the surface of the skin. 

  • Are bulging veins dangerous?

    In most cases, bulging veins aren’t dangerous. However, in severe cases they can put you at increased risk for clots, bleeding, swelling and ulcers. Talk to your healthcare provider about your risk.

  • When should I be worried about bulging veins?

    If you have any persistent swelling, pain, bleeding, trouble breathing, or chest pain, call 911 immediately. For milder symptoms that are worrisome for you, like aches or itching, speak with your healthcare provider. 

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Varicose veins.

  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine.Varicose veins.

  3. MedlinePlus. Varicose veins.

  4. National Institutes of Health. Varicose veins.

By Kelly Burch
Kelly Burch is has written about health topics for more than a decade. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and more.