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Vein disease, or venous insufficiency, is a condition when the veins in the legs do not properly return blood flow back to your heart. Damaged or weakened veins cause blood to flow backwards and blood to pool in the legs. This leads to visible, painful or swollen veins.
Vein disease begins as the result of damaged valves within the veins themselves. The primary function of veins is to return blood from the body to the heart. Muscle contractions in the legs help accomplish this goal by pushing the blood flow upward, against gravity. At the same time, valves inside the veins open to allow blood to flow in the correct direction and close to prevent it from coming back. However, when valves become weak or damaged, they may not be able to stop the backward flow of blood and subsequent pooling in the veins. Over time, this leads to the darkening, swelling and twisting of varicose veins.
There are a number of risk factors which can lead to the development of vein disease. While not all of these are controllable, some can be directly influenced by the patient. In many cases, vein disease is the result of a combination of the following:
Vein disease may produce no bothersome symptoms at all. However, in cases which do become symptomatic, the following are among the most commonly observed side effects:
Discoloration - Veins may appear blue or purplish in color. The skin surrounding varicose veins may also become discolored.
Protrusion - As veins become enlarged, they may protrude from skin, with a cord or rope-like appearance.
Pain - Legs may ache, cramp, burn, throb or feel heavy. These symptoms may be worse after prolonged periods of sitting.
Itching - Itching may occur in areas around one or more of the affected veins.
Vein disease can be treated with lifestyle modifications as well as medication. Compression stockings are most commonly used to help relieve symptoms, improve blood flow and reduce swelling. However to treat the root of the problem, interventional procedures can be done to remove or close off the diseased veins. Most of these procedures can be done in a Cardiovascular Institute of the South clinic.
Without treatment, chronic venous insufficiency can be very painful and debilitating. It can lead to tissue inflammation, tissue damage, or blood clots, and can cause ulcers and infections, which can spread. It is important to consult a vein specialist for a proper diagnosis.
Vein disease can progressively get worse over time due to the pressure created by the backflow of blood in the legs. This may lead to additional spider and varicose veins, and in some cases can lead to swelling and venous ulcers at the lower calf and ankle. Even if only spider veins are present, you should consult a vein specialist to determine the problem so that it can be treated.
Deep Vein Thrombosis –Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot develops with a deep a vein, commonly in the legs. It can occur in one or more veins and can have some serious consequences should any of the clots break loose and travel to the lungs.
Varicose Veins – Varicose veins are dark, enlarged, twisting veins that occur most commonly in the legs. They range in severity from merely cosmetic (spider veins) to severe with a number of associated, uncomfortable symptoms and potential complications.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a hardening of the arteries due to build-up or blockage in any area of the body other than the heart. The disease most commonly affects the legs, but it can also occur in the kidneys, neck or arms. These blockages keep extremities and organs from receiving oxygen-rich blood. PAD is a common and treatable disease, but it is often misdiagnosed as its main symptom of leg cramps is regarded by many as an inevitable consequence of aging. Ultimately, PAD can reduce mobility and be fatal if left untreated.
PAD is most commonly the result of atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque builds within the arteries. Over time, this plaque hardens and reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood. If PAD is left untreated, complications can include heart attack, stroke, or loss of limbs due to infection or injury. While the exact cause of atherosclerosis is not known, certain conditions that damage the inner layers of arteries may be contributors or risk factors of PAD. In its early stages, carotid artery disease does not show any symptoms.
CIS estimates that 17-20 million Americans have PAD, and this number is growing. The prevalence of PAD increases with age. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, one in every 20 Americans over the age of 50 has PAD. Many who suffer from the disease are never diagnosed or treated because the symptoms of PAD are often mistaken for general signs of aging. While some hardening of the arteries and plaque build-up is normal as you grow older, certain risk factors, including behaviors, conditions, or habits, can lead to developing PAD sooner. The more risk factors you have, the higher your chances of developing PAD.
The risk factors associated with Peripheral Arterial Disease are:
While many patients have no symptoms of PAD, the condition does pose a potential health risk. Those with more advanced forms of PAD may experience complications including the following:
Claudication – Leg pain that occurs with movement such as walking or exercising is known as claudication. This discomfort often goes away with rest. However, in more severe cases, the pain may continue even during rest. Other associated symptoms can include numbness, weakness, and coldness in the lower leg or foot.
Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI) – Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI) is a particularly severe form of PAD in which the extremities have difficulty healing from injury or infection. In some cases, these infections or wounds may not only be slow to heal, but they may also actually progress, resulting in gangrene, or the death of surrounding tissue. Eventually, if not treated properly, these complications can lead to the need for amputation.