A woman in Australia died after being attacked by one of her roosters, according to a new case report—and as highly unlikely as it sounds (and, honestly, is) the incident will leave you paying a little more attention to some veins on your legs.
The case report, detailed in the journal Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology, tells of a 76-year-old woman who was collecting chicken eggs on her property when a rooster started pecking at her lower left leg. That pecking caused a "significant hemorrhage," that caused the woman to collapse. She eventually died of her injuries.
According to the case report, an autopsy conducted after her death found that the woman had two small cuts on her leg, including one that was over a large varicose vein. As a result, doctors said she died from "exsanguination," or severe blood loss, from bleeding from the varicose vein after the rooster attack.
“This case demonstrates that even relatively small domestic animals may be able to inflict lethal injuries in individuals if there are specific vascular vulnerabilities present,” the authors of the report wrote.
While dying from a varicose vein injury is rare (that's why it ended up in a medical journal), the incident raises some important questions about varicose veins. Here's what you need to know.
What are varicose veins, again?
Varicose veins are a common condition caused by weak or damaged vein walls and valves, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) says. Your veins have one-way valves inside them that open and close to keep blood flowing in your heart. But weakened or damaged valves or walls in the veins can cause blood to pool and flow backwards, the NHLBI explains. When this happens, the veins might grow larger and become distorted, causing varicose veins.
“Varicose veins are veins you already have that stretch out over time,” explains Mounir Haurani, M.D., vascular surgeon at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Think of a balloon that you make animals out of: They start out straight and small but after they get blown up they are longer, wider, and thinner walled.”
Varicose veins typically form when your blood pressure increases inside your veins. That can happen due to a range of things, including pregnancy, constipation, a tumor, or being overweight or obese, the NHLBI says.
As far as treatment options go, lifestyle changes (reaching a healthy weight, avoiding sitting or standing for long periods of time, being more physically active—can help, as can compression therapy, says Dr. Haurani. Medical procedures like endovenous ablation (which uses lasers or radiofrequency energy to heat the inside of the vein and close it off), sclerotherapy (where your doctor injects liquid or foam chemicals into the vein to seal it closed), or surgical removal of the varicose veins are also an option, the NHLBI says.
Okay, but are varicose veins ever harmful?
If this case study is any indication, yes, they can be—but on the whole, varicose veins are not directly a sign of any major systemic illness, Dr. Haurani says, so they’re pretty harmless on their own.
But back to the case study: It should be noted that bleeding from varicose veins is not overly common, Dr. Haurani says. Still, people do go to the emergency room for varicose vein injuries “because it can be hard to stop the bleeding on your own,” he says.
If you have varicose veins and you happen to injure them, apply pressure to the wound and then lay down with your legs up on a chair, Dr. Haurani says. And, if the bleeding doesn’t stop, seek medical care ASAP. But, aside from injuring varicose veins, if you have them at all and are bothered by them (or you're concerned about you have varicose veins and they bother you, or you’re concerned about your future risk of injury, talk to your doctor, who should be able to guide you on next steps.
To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter.