Vein disease involves much more than the unsightly appearance of varicose veins. It’s a serious disorder with painful symptoms and severe complications if left untreated. Learn the truth about vein disease: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Perhaps you think the swollen veins on your legs are nothing to worry about because they don’t hurt. You simply cover them up so no one will see them.
Or, perhaps the veins are causing you pain, but you’ve learned to ignore the discomfort. If it doesn’t completely stop you from going about your day, it can’t be anything serious, right?
Unfortunately, the truth is that vein disease is much more than just a cosmetic issue or nuisance. One should never ignore swollen, painful veins, as these symptoms indicate a vein disorder, and untreated vascular disease can lead to severe consequences. Here’s everything you need to know about vein disease.
What does vein disease feel like?
Did you know that you have 100,000 miles of arteries, veins, and capillaries in your body? Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to your tissues and organs. Veins return deoxygenated blood back to the heart, and capillaries connect the veins to the arteries. Vein disease (chronic venous insufficiency) occurs when blood flow slows within the veins, usually due to weakened valves that struggle to push blood upward to the heart. Common symptoms of vein disease include:
Leg Pain. The pain can be a constant dull ache, most notably after sitting or standing all day. Pain can also occur when you’re physically active but may subside when you rest.
Swelling. Blood that pools in the veins cause your veins to swell and protrude from under the skin. Swelling is also caused by excess fluids leaking into the surrounding tissues. As the veins become swollen, you may also feel heaviness in the leg.
Skin Changes. The excess fluids that leak into the surrounding skin and tissues can also cause varicose eczema. This condition causes dry, flaky, itchy, and cracked skin that sometimes burns and gives the skin a scaly apperarance. If left untreated, varicose eczema can lead to skin ulcers and infections.
Itching. Damage to the skin can further result in itching, another common symptom of vascular disease. When your veins swell with blood, your body releases histamines, which are the same hormones your body sends out when you have an allergic reaction.
What are the diseases and disorders of vein disease?
Vein disease isn’t just a collection of various symptoms. It can also be classified into four distinct conditions:
Blood Clots. Blood that backs up in the veins encourages blood cells to bind and form a clot. Clots in the leg can take on two forms:
Superficial thrombophlebitis: An inflammation in a superficial vein, superficial thrombophlebitis causes pain, tenderness, and reddish-colored skin. It’s generally not considered serious and can be resolved with at-home treatments such as applying a warm compress and elevating your legs.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): As its name suggests, DVT develops deeper within the leg. Pain, swelling, and red, warm skin are typical DVT symptoms, although it can also be asymptomatic. These clots are more dangerous because they can break away and lodge in the lungs, causing a potentially life-threatening pulmonary embolism.
Varicose Veins. The most common symptom of vascular disease is a varicose vein. As tiny valves in the leg veins lose strength and elasticity, blood backflows and pools within the vein, stretching its walls outward from under the skin. Along with the appearance of gnarled, protruding blue and purple veins, varicose veins cause pain, throbbing, cramping, and itching. Not all varicose veins are visible, however. If the diseased vein is deeper within the leg, you might not see swollen veins, but you’ll likely still feel pain and other symptoms.
PAD/PVD. Peripheral artery disease (PAD), otherwise known as peripheral vascular disease (PVD), occurs when the blood vessels carrying blood from the heart to the legs narrow. A buildup of fatty deposits within the artery, known as atherosclerosis, is the primary cause of PAD. While a blood vessel anywhere in the body can become blocked, PAD most often affects the legs. Patients with PAD report pain when exercising, a condition called intermittent claudication, since muscles require more blood during physical exertion. Other PAD symptoms include changes in skin texture and ankle sores.
Collagen Vascular Disease. Collagen vascular disease refers to several autoimmune disorders in which the body’s immune system attacks organs and tissues. Vasculitis is one of these conditions. A rare disorder, vasculitis inflames the blood vessels, restricting blood flow. Symptoms include joint and muscle pain, weight loss, headaches, and high blood pressure.
The relationship between COVID-19 and vascular disease
COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory disease. Yet doctors recently discovered the virus also affects the veins.
To gain entry into the body, the virus attaches to the protein ACE2, or angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, found in the lining of the endothelial cells in blood vessels which keep blood moving through the veins. As the virus binds with the endothelial cells, the the body’s immune system goes into overdrive and the cells attack the veins, leading to clotting and high blood pressure.
Diagnosing and treating vein disease
The primary diagnostic test for a vein disease is a non-invasive duplex ultrasound. It uses sound waves to create a picture of blood flow in the veins. Another commonly-used option is a venogram, which takes an X-ray of your veins after the doctor injects a contrasting dye.
An ankle-brachial index test that measures blood pressure in the ankles can diagnose PAD. Ultrasound and other imaging tests may also be performed.
The first line of varicose vein therapies involves non-surgical and conservative methods. They typically range from wearing compression stockings to elevating your legs. If those methods fail to reduce symptoms, your doctor will recommend minimally invasive surgical options:
Sclerotherapy is a procedure where your doctor will inject a safe solution called a sclerosant into the diseased veins. As the solution irritates and collapses the vein wall, the vein is absorbed into the body as blood diverts to healthy veins.
Thermal ablation destroys the affected vein with heat from laser or radiofrequency waves.
Ambulatory phlebectomy removes larger varicose veins via two tiny incisions.
Your doctor may prescribe several medications to address slow-healing skin ulcers. A corticosteroid counteracts the redness in your skin, while an antihistamine stops the itching. If the sore is infected, you will need an antibiotic. A medicated wrap can also heal the wound.
To treat PAD/PVD, your doctor may prescribe blood thinners. You may likely need to make lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and exercising regularly. Surgical options for PAD/PVD include angioplasty, which widens the artery with a catheter, and bypass surgery, which takes a blood vessel from another part of the body to reroute blood around the damaged artery.
Your vein health is important to us
Taking care of your veins is a vital element of your overall health. Never ignore the symptoms of vein disease! Addressing your symptoms now can prevent painful and dangerous complications from occurring in the future.
At Center for Vein Restoration (CVR), our physicians are experienced in dealing with every element of vein disease. We can help you with every step of your vein journey, from diagnosis to treatment and recovery.
Schedule your consultation appointment online today! Or, call 1-800-FIX-LEGS to speak to a dedicated Patient Services Representative.