WHERE DOES VENOUS DISEASE OCCUR?
Varicose veins commonly occur in the legs. Varicose veins form as a result of increased pressure in the leg veins. In order to understand how the increased pressure develops, we need to understand how our blood vessels function. Our bodies have arteries which carry the blood with oxygen from our lungs and heart to the rest of the body. We also have veins which carry the blood back to the lungs and heart. The arteries have a muscular wall and pulse continuously. The veins do not pulse and movement of blood in the veins is with gravity or with contraction of a nearby muscle which squeezes the vein pushing the blood forward. So, at times that we are standing or sitting still, the veins have valves which prevent the backwards flow of blood. When the valves fail, there is a backwards flow of blood. The additional blood in the veins causes the vein to get larger, and form new pathways (varicose veins). Symptoms can occur without seeing varicose veins. These symptoms include pain, swelling, aching, tired heavy legs, itching, restless legs and skin discoloration.
This illustration shows how normal blood flow occurs through a healthy vein back to the heart by contraction of your muscles and valves that prevent back flow. In venous disease, a varicose vein is enlarged and the walls stretched thinly, with valves that allow back flow. The middle image shows where a varicose vein might appear in a leg as a series of bulging veins.
WHY ME? RISK FACTORS FOR VENOUS DISEASE
Genetics are the main cause of vein disease. If your parents had varicose veins, it is likely that you will too. Both men and women are affected but, women are more likely to develop vein disease because of hormonal changes and pregnancy.
Lifestyle considerations affect both men and women leading to vein disease. Obesity increases the pressure on your veins, as does standing for prolonged periods of time. A sedentary lifestyle prevents good blood flow back to your heart. Contraction of the nearby muscles is needed for blood to move in the veins in the legs. So if you need to sit or stand for long periods of time, make sure you are moving your feet.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE VENOUS INSUFFICIENCY IS UNTREATED?
Vein disease is often progressive, getting worse over time. Most people who have symptoms eventually develop varicose and spider veins. Some people develop the extremes of vein disease including skin rashes, discoloration and non healing ulcers.
Whether your symptoms are mild, or severe, they can interrupt your usual activities and affect your quality of life. Vein disease is treatable, and with symptoms, vein treatments are covered by most health insurances, including Medicare and Medicaid.