Veins play an important role in the circulatory system. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from your heart to the cells in the far reaches of your body, including your lower legs and feet. The pull of gravity helps your arteries move blood downwards. Veins, on the other hand, carry oxygen-poor blood from your extremities back towards your heart. Veins also carry away toxins created by tissue cells.
Unlike arteries, veins must work against the force of gravity. Veins are elastic, and this elasticity helps squeeze blood upwards from your feet towards your heart. One-way valves inside your veins trap blood in your blood vessels so that it does not drain downward between heartbeats.
Problems can develop in veins, especially as you age, to cause a variety of complications. Veins tend to lose their elasticity as they get older, and aging valves can stop opening and closing efficiently. These problems can lead to varicose veins, spider veins and other vein diseases.
Symptoms of Vein Disease
Symptoms of vein disease include:
- Red or blue twisted veins
- Swelling of the legs or ankles
- Pain that gets worse when standing and eases when sitting with legs raised
- leg cramps
- Aching, throbbing or heavy feeling in the legs
- Itchy legs
- Weakness of the legs
- Thickening of the skin on the legs or ankles
The early symptoms of vein disease may seem minor but, as the disease progresses, symptoms and complications of vein disease can become increasingly serious and sometimes even life-threatening if left untreated. Becoming aware of the symptoms and seeking medical advice when symptoms first appear can reduce the risk for worsening vein problems and complications.
Deep venous thrombosis (DVT) is a serious condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in a large vein, typically in the pelvis, thigh or lower leg. All or part of a blood clot can break off and travel to the lungs, a life-threatening condition known as pulmonary embolism (PE).
Chronic venous disease (CVD) is an umbrella term for chronic conditions resulting from diseased or abnormal veins. Varicose veins, spider veins and chronic venous insufficiency are types of CVD. Treatment for CVD depends on its underlying cause.
Chronic venous insufficiency occurs when veins, usually in the legs, cannot pump enough blood back up to your heart. Malfunctioning valves are the most common cause of chronic venous insufficiency, according to the National Library of Medicine, in that they allow blood to flow backwards and pool in the lower legs. The pooled blood causes a great deal of pressure inside weakened veins, which can cause the walls of the veins to stretch and bloat. Affected veins lying near the surface of the skin appear as red or blue twisted varicose veins, which are always unsightly, sometimes painful and rarely serious. Spider veins are similar to varicose veins but occur in tiny blood vessels lying at the surface of skin.
Left untreated, varicose veins and other types of vein disease can become serious health issues. Varicose veins cannot carry toxins away from skin tissue near the ankles. In time, these toxins cause skin cells to die, creating a large sore known as a venous ulcer that can be slow to heal and prone to infection.
Treatments for varicose veins include laser ablation, ultrasound guided chemical ablation and ambulatory microphlebectomy. Treatments for spider veins include laser therapy and sclerotherapy.
If you think you have vein disease, contact your local vein clinic for an appointment.