Bulging Veins: Medical Causes and Related Symptoms

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

What are bulging veins?

Bulging of the veins is a symptom that commonly occurs in different conditions, such as thrombophlebitis, pregnancy, older age, and congenitally defective valves in the veins. Varicose veins are dilated, often distorted, and swollen veins that may be painful. Varicose veins are most frequently seen in the legs.

Veins have valves that act as one-way flaps to prevent blood from flowing backward as it moves up the legs. Bulging of the veins results when the valves do not function properly, allowing the blood to pool and enlarge the vein. It may occur in conditions affecting the vein itself or in association with more generalized conditions, such as pregnancy and aging. Inflammation and swelling of a vein (thrombophlebitis) is a common cause of bulging veins. Other common causes include lack of movement and obesity. Obstructions to the flow of blood in the veins can also cause bulging.

Pregnancy can lead to bulging veins in some women. Pregnancy increases the volume of blood within the body but decreases the flow of blood from the legs to the pelvis. The decreased blood flow from the legs can result in bulging veins in the legs. Bulging veins may worsen during late pregnancy, when the uterus exerts greater pressure on the veins in the legs.

Advancing age can also cause bulging veins. The aging process can cause veins to weaken and lose elasticity, and they become unable to effectively push the blood back toward the heart. As blood pools in the veins, they become enlarged and bulge.

In some cases, bulging of the veins can be a symptom of a serious condition. Seek prompt medical care if you experience bulging veins along with skin ulcers or sudden swelling in the area of the bulging veins. These are symptoms of peripheral vascular disease and blood clots. In addition, if your bulging veins are persistent or cause you concern, seek prompt medical care.

What other symptoms might occur with bulging veins?

Bulging veins may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the veins may also involve other body systems.

Leg symptoms that may occur along with bulging veins

Bulging veins may accompany other symptoms affecting the legs including:

  • Aching pain that may get worse after sitting or standing for a long time

  • Darkening of the skin

  • Feeling of heaviness in legs

  • Rash that is itchy or irritated

  • Swelling

  • Throbbing or cramping

Other symptoms that may occur along with bulging veins

Bulging veins may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

  • Symptoms of diabetes, such as damage to blood vessels, skin ulcers near the ankle, and slow-healing wounds

  • Symptoms of obesity, such as increased weight and inactivity

  • Symptoms of pregnancy, such as increased weight, increased blood volume, and pressure in abdomen

  • Symptoms of thrombophlebitis, such as inflammation, pain, and redness or warmth of the skin in the affected area

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, bulging veins may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have bulging veins along with other serious symptoms including:

  • Bleeding from injury to the vein

  • Feeling of pulling or pain in the leg

  • Redness, warmth or swelling in the leg

  • Skin on the ankle or calf thickening and changing color

  • Sores or skin ulcers on the leg or ankle

What causes bulging veins?

Bulging veins usually result from weak or damaged valves in the veins. The heart pumps blood that supplies oxygen and nutrients to the whole body through the arteries. Veins then carry the blood from the body back to the heart. As leg muscles contract, they push blood back to the heart from the lower body against the flow of gravity. Veins have valves that act as one-way flaps to prevent blood from flowing backward as it moves up the legs. If the valves become weak, blood can leak back into the veins and collect there, making the veins bigger and bulging.

Causes of bulging veins

Bulging veins can be caused by different conditions. Although rare, tumors and infections may exert pressure on the veins in a localized area, resulting in bulging and congestion of the veins. Causes of bulging veins include:

  • Abdominal tumor or mass
  • Aging
  • Blood clot
  • Inactivity
  • Pregnancy
  • Structural abnormality of valves in the veins
  • Swelling
  • Thrombophlebitis

Serious or life-threatening causes of bulging veins

In some cases, bulging veins may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

Questions for diagnosing the cause of bulging veins

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your bulging veins including:

  • How long have you had bulging veins?
  • Did you experience an injury to the area where you have bulging veins?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of bulging veins?

Because bulging veins can be caused by serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Blood clots
  • Skin ulcerations near bulging veins
  • Swelling and pain
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  1. Varicose veins and venous insufficiency. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002099/
  2. Varicose veins and spider veins fact sheet. WomensHealth.gov. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/varicose-spider-veins.html
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 3
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