What is Vein Disease?
Healthy veins are responsible for returning oxygen-starved blood to your heart. To do this, they have to fight against the force of gravity. That’s where tiny valves inside each vein normally help. If blood tries to flow backward, the valves close tightly. Vein diseases cause valves to begin to leak or fail completely. When that happens, blood can accumulate in the legs resulting in high venous pressure and many other uncomfortable and unsightly symptoms.
Varicose veins are the most well-known sign of venous disease, but they can also cause the legs to feel heavy, achy, or tired. The legs may also become swollen and prone to cramps that can interfere with ease of movement during the day and restful sleep at night. Types of vein disease may include:
- Spider veins: When blood pressure increases, it can cause these tiny veins to become visible under the skin. These twisting blood vessels can appear bright red, purple or blue.
- Varicose veins: Similar to spider veins, varicose veins are also caused when blood vessels swell. The difference is that varicose veins are larger and more prominent.
- Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI): CVI means that several vein valves are starting to fail. This can cause blood to pool in the legs and feet.
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): DVT happens when a blood clot forms in your arms or legs. Improperly functioning valves can contribute to this problem by allowing blood to pool. If you have varicose veins your chance of getting deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is five times higher. DVT can migrate and cause a pulmonary embolism.
- Pulmonary embolism: If a blood clot in the legs breaks loose, it can lead to a blockage of the pulmonary arteries. This life-threatening condition doesn’t allow the lungs to work correctly.
What Symptoms Will I Experience?
As blood vessels start to swell, this can lead to aching or throbbing pain. Here are a few additional warning signs:
- Painful legs and feet
- Bulging veins
- Swollen ankles
- Itching legs
- Hot or burning ankles
- Heaviness in the feet
- Skin that looks discolored or thick
Additionally, secondary skin irritation can occur like edema, dry, flaky skin, and varicose eczema. Other manifestations of poor circulation or pooled blood in the veins are hyperpigmentation, where patches on the skin appear much darker than the surrounding skin, and atrophie blanche, an angular scar-like mark caused by poor healing after a trauma. Leg ulcers and cellulitis, and infection in the underlying tissues of the skin, can also form.
Are There Any Risk Factors?
Venous insufficiency is common, with 200,000 diagnoses each year just in the U.S. Vein disease may have hereditary causes, so a family history of DVT or CVI can increase your risk. Other risk factors for CVI include being overweight, aging and previous blood clots. Women typically have a higher risk than men due to hormonal factors, and pregnancy further increases the likelihood of developing varicose veins because of higher blood flow.
Risk factors include:
- A family history of varicose veins
- Being female
- Being pregnant or having been pregnant
- Professions that require long periods of either standing or sitting
- Age (risks increase after the age of 50)
- Heavy lifting
- Blood clots
- A personal history of varicose veins
- Muscle weakness, leg injury or other trauma
- Phlebitis, or the swelling of a superficial vein
- Lack of exercise or sedentary lifestyle
- Pelvic tumors and vascular malformations
If you have any of the risk factors for vein disease, you should pay careful attention to your diet and lifestyle to prevent the formation of blood clots or the development of other conditions related to insufficient blood flow. There are some steps you can take to modify your daily activities to decrease your chances of serious complications:
- Get up and move around at least five minutes each hour.
- Don’t smoke or quit if you do.
- Exercise regularly.
- Lose weight or maintain a healthy body weight.
- Don’t cross your legs when seated.
- Wear compression hose or socks when you must sit for long periods, such as on a plane.
A definitive diagnosis of vein disease requires a clinical exam by a trained physician or diagnostician. The duplex ultrasound is one of the most common tests for diagnosing venous disease.
A duplex ultrasound, the most accurate diagnostic test for venous disease, combines the best of traditional ultrasound and Doppler ultrasound. The doctor or technician moves a transducer over the test area to measure the speed and direction of the blood flow by bouncing sound off red blood cells. A computer program measures the reflection of the sound and creates pictures from the sound waves to assist the physician in diagnosing problems with blood flow.
Speak With Doctors You Can Trust
Vein disease is a very personal thing, but it’s not something you need to be ashamed of. Speaking with a doctor about CVI may allow you to find relief from spider veins and leg pain. With state-of-the-art vein treatment options, it’s often possible to correct CVI and prevent blood clots from forming. To learn more about how our team can help you personally, contact Gilvydis Vein Clinic for more information.