Older Americans and Vein Disease

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Older Americans and Vein Disease

Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) is the most common vascular disease in the United States, affecting more than 40 million people. CVI is a progressive, potentially serious, and complex condition that will not go away on its own. It occurs more frequently in people over age 50 than those who are younger.

We consulted vein doctor and specialist Eddie A. Fernandez, MD, RPVI, a Regional Medical Director in Maryland and lead physician at Center for Vein Restoration (CVR) locations in North Bethesda/ Rockville and Silver Spring, Maryland, about the CVI in older people. Dr. Fernandez is a board-certified physician specializing in CVI, varicose veins, spider veins, and venous ulcers. His CVR clinic was awarded #1 Vein Clinic in Bethesda Magazine, Best of Bethesda (2011, 2017, 2019, 2021).

The following are Dr. Fernandez’ responses to our questions about vein disease in older people:

What happens to veins as we age?

Unfortunately, as we age, the valves within the veins that help move the blood flow upward toward the heart are more likely to become weakened and fail. As a result, blood flows backward and can pool in the legs. This process is called venous insufficiency. If left untreated, CVI can lead to:

  • swelling of the lower legs and ankles
  • achiness and pain
  • leg heaviness and fatigue
  • skin changes such as flaking, itching, and a “leathery” appearance
  • leg ulcers

Will everyone eventually get varicose veins in old age?

Not everyone will get varicosities (enlarged veins) as a sign of venous disease. Some patients may develop edema (swelling), increase spider veins, skin hyperpigmentation. These can all occur in the absence of varicosities.

It is important to remember that, while older people are more susceptible to varicose veins and venous stasis ulcers, these conditions are not a normal part of aging. Patients do not have to suffer from symptoms. There are safe, effective, minimally invasive procedures to treat the discomfort of venous insufficiency. And best of all, treating the symptoms also halts the progression of the disease.

Are varicose veins a sign of other things going on in my body that I can’t see?

I always say that varicosities are the "tip of the iceberg." They are one of the first indicative signs of CVI. They can also be representative of pelvic venous congestion. Pelvic congestion syndrome occurs in women when the veins in the lower part of the abdomen stop working well. The veins in the pelvis can enlarge and change shape, like varicose veins, resulting in pain or a heavy or aching feeling.

Depending on their location, enlarged veins can have other names (such as hemorrhoids) which are indicative of other conditions within the body.

At what point should I seek professional medical attention?

One should seek medical attention at the earliest sign or symptoms of possible venous disease. There are times when there is no sign such as varicosities or swelling, but the patient is suffering from pain, nocturnal cramps, or restless leg. These are all reasons to seek an early evaluation.

What can be done to treat varicose veins?

There are multiple treatments available for the treatment of varicosities. They vary based on the location and size of the vessel. Sometimes your insurance can also determine the type of treatment covered. However, the most important reason is to properly identify the source of varicosities so treatment can be safe and successful.

Is there anything we can do to prevent varicose veins as we age?

While many risk factors associated with the development of varicose veins are out of our control—such as age and family history—there are things that we can do to help prevent varicose veins, including:

  • Maintain an ideal weight
  • Have a frequent exercise routine
  • Don’t stand or sit for long periods at a time
  • Wear compression stockings

Scheduling an Appointment with Dr. Fernandez

Call 240-965-3915 or visit centerforvein.com for more information.

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