Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), or vein disease, is the root cause of varicose veins and spider veins. Left untreated, CVI can contribute to a loss of productivity and reduced quality of life.
Varicose veins are part of the spectrum of chronic venous diseases that also cause spider veins. Vein disease occurs when the valves in the veins of the legs fail to function correctly, leading to blood pooling in the lower extremities and increased pressure in the veins. Over time, this can cause the veins to become enlarged and twisted, resulting in the characteristic appearance of varicose veins.
According to the AHA Journal Circulation, approximately 23 percent of adults in the United States have varicose veins. If you add spider veins to this calculation, 80 percent of men and 85 percent of women have symptoms of venous disease.
Are varicose veins a health problem?
Caused by various factors, including genetics, pregnancy, obesity, advanced age, or prolonged standing or sitting, varicose veins may seem like just a cosmetic issue. However, these enlarged, twisted, throbbing, or itchy veins can lead to reduced health and lifestyle complications if left untreated.
Complications of Untreated Varicose Veins
One of the most serious complications of venous insufficiency is the development of blood clots, which can form when blood flow is disrupted or slowed down. These blood clots, also known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), can be life-threatening if they break off and travel to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism (PE).
According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), DVT affects as many as 900,000 people in the United States annually, with 60,000-100,000 Americans dying of DVT-related pulmonary embolism. Sudden death is the first symptom in 25 percent of PE cases.
Further, 33 percent of people who have had a DVT have long-term complications (post-thrombotic syndrome) such as swelling, pain, discoloration, and scaling in the affected limb.
Caused by weakening vein walls and valves, varicose veins can sometimes bleed due to a minor injury or trauma to the area. The vein can burst spontaneously by scratching the skin over the swollen vein, bumping into an object, or for no apparent reason. These bleeding incidents can sometimes be difficult to control.
Venous insufficiency can also cause skin ulcers, which are open sores that develop on the legs. Called a venous leg ulcer, these ulcers can be painful and may take weeks or even months to heal. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), chronic venous disease is the most common cause of leg sores, representing approximately 65 percent of ulcers on the leg.
Venous insufficiency can also cause swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet. This swelling can be uncomfortable and make it difficult to move around, impacting your quality of life.
Pain and Discomfort
Varicose veins caused by vein disease can be painful and uncomfortable, especially when standing or sitting for long periods of time. This pain can also make sleeping, exercising, or performing daily activities difficult. Varicose veins can also be unsightly and a source of embarrassment and emotional upset.
Venous insufficiency and varicose veins can cause changes in the color and texture of the skin on the legs. The skin may become dry, itchy, or discolored and may even develop a rash or infection.
How to avoid varicose veins in the first place!
While venous insufficiency and varicose veins can be serious conditions, there are several things you can do to improve your quality of life if you are dealing with these issues.
- Exercise regularly: Consistent physician activity can help improve leg circulation and reduce the risk of blood clots. NYU Langone Health suggests that anyone concerned about varicose veins walk or cycle for 30 minutes up to 5 days a week. They recommend against certain types of exercise—such as lifting weights and distance running that can lead to a backup of blood and may stress your veins.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Excess weight puts added pressure on the veins in the legs, making venous insufficiency and varicose veins worse. By maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise, you can reduce this pressure and improve circulation.
- Wear compression stockings: Compression stockings are a type of hosiery that can help improve leg circulation and reduce swelling. According to the Cleveland Clinic, compression stockings can minimize leg pain and swelling by at least 50% if you wear them daily.
- Elevate your legs
If you spend time sitting or standing, elevating your legs above heart level for a few minutes every hour can be helpful. This can help improve circulation and reduce swelling.
What should I do about varicose veins?
It is essential to consult a healthcare professional before your varicose veins advance into causing significant discomfort and a serious medical condition. A vein specialist has the specific training and necessary diagnostic equipment, such as duplex ultrasound, to assess your vein condition. A vascular expert can then develop a customized treatment plan based on your condition.
At Center for Vein Restoration (CVR), all vein care takes place in the comfort and convenience of an outpatient office setting. Our board-certified vein doctors have extensive experience in diagnosing and treating venous diseases using advanced, minimally invasive treatment options that can halt the progress of this chronic, progressive disorder.
Call 800-FIX-LEGS (800-349-5347) to schedule your appointment with a CVR vein expert. You can also book your consultation HERE.