To better understand venous disease, it is important to know the purpose and functions of the veins in your body and to know that venous disease takes several forms.
To better understand how vein disorders occur, are treated and can be prevented, it is first important to know how veins function in your body and their purpose.
Blood flows through a system of blood vessels, also known as veins and arteries. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Veins are the blood vessels responsible for transporting blood back towards the heart, from the organs and limbs.
Veins contain a series of one-way valves which move the blood through the vein, helping along the way to fight the force of gravity. The valves function like curved doors, opening to let the blood flow towards the heart, and then closing to hold it in place, preventing any backward flow. The valves are spaced at intervals along the inside wall of the vein.
When the valves are healthy (competent), they close tightly. When they are not healthy (incompetent), they do not close completely and blood can then flow backward, pool inside the vein and cause the vein to dilate, meaning it swells or expands abnormally. This can lead to painful and sometimes serious medical conditions commonly known as venous disease. Some examples of venous disease are spider veins, varicose veins, venous stasis disease and thrombophlebitis.
If you have varicose veins, spider veins or other venous disease, you are most likely painfully aware. However, not all patients are aware of their symptoms. Symptoms may include leg heaviness, pain or tenderness along the course of a vein, tingling or burning pain, restlessness, throbbing or cramping pain, numbness, swelling, edema, itching, skin changes and skin ulcers. Following treatment, patients are often surprised to realize how much discomfort they had accepted as normal in their day to day lives.
Anyone, no matter what gender, can develop spider or varicose veins. However, certain risk factors can make them more likely to form. Varicose veins usually appear between the ages 30 and 70 and get progressively worse. The tendency toward vein problems can run in families. A profession that keeps you on your feet or sitting at a desk all day can attribute to vein problems because your blood doesn't flow as well if you're in the same position for long periods of time. Being overweight is also a risk factor, as there is added pressure on your veins. Women are more likely than men to develop vein problems, due to pregnancy and hormonal factors (hormonal changes during menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause, or in response to exogenous hormonal therapy, e.g. oral contraceptives). Female hormones tend to relax vein walls. Other factors include lack of exercise, and injury (trauma).
Varicose veins are dilated, twisting and bulging veins that have lost their normal function and the ability to transport blood. They can be more than unsightly. Varicose veins make it difficult to stand, walk, work and participate in your favorite activities. Left untreated they can become a serious medical condition and may cause blood clots, skin ulcers, bleeding and skin pigment changes. Symptoms include aching, swelling, itching and heaviness in the leg. Effective treatment options include endovenous laser treatment, microphlebectomy and sclerotherapy.
Small, superficial veins that appear close to the surface of the skin and are dark in color (dark blue or purple) are called spider veins. Clusters of spider veins can even look like a bruise. Spider veins can form due to heredity, injury, pregnancy, or hormonal changes. These veins are generally not harmful, but their appearance can make you self-conscious. In some cases, these vessels can bleed, causing more serious problems. In many instances, spider veins are fed by larger sources of reflux occurring within the venous system and can be a sign of underlying venous disease. Treatment options include sclerotherapy and superficial laser ablation.