Varicose veins and other vein disease in the legs

by Dr. Claudine Rae L. Javier

What is vein disease?

Vein disease is a condition affecting the veins in the legs causing leg pain, varicose veins, swollen legs, or open sores. Varicose veins are swollen and twisted veins.

When the veins in the legs do not work the right way, vein disease happens. Normally, the veins in the legs carry blood from the legs back to the heart. The veins have tiny valves inside them to help keep blood moving in only one direction (toward the heart). The valves open to let blood flow to the heart, and close to keep it from flowing back down the leg. When the valves are damaged, blood collects in the legs. Blood is especially likely to collect in the legs when a person sits or stands for a long time without walking.

What conditions can cause vein disease?

Vein disease can be caused by:

  • A blood clot in a leg vein
  • Leg injury
  • Being pregnant more than once – This causes a change in hormone levels that can weaken vein walls.
  • Weight gain

Vein disease is also hereditary.

What are the symptoms of vein disease?

  • Leg pain, or the leg feeling tired or heavy
  • Swollen veins – "Spider veins" are small leg veins that are swollen. "Varicose veins" are larger leg veins that are swollen and twisted.
  • Swelling in the lower legs or ankles – People can have swelling at the end of the day or all the time.
  • Skin color changes – The skin can turn red or red-brown. Skin color changes often happen first around the ankle.
  • Open sores, also called "venous ulcers" – These are usually at the ankle and can be painful and ooze.

Is there a test for vein disease?

Yes. Your doctor or nurse will do an exam to look at your legs. He or she might also do a test called an ultrasound. An ultrasound can check how well the valves in the legs work. It can also see if any of the veins in the legs are blocked.

What can I do to reduce my symptoms?

To reduce swelling, you can:

  • Walk around, and try not to sit or stand in one place for a long time
  • Raise your legs up 3 or 4 times a day, for 30 minutes each time
  • Do exercises to point your toes and feet down and up a few times each day

To treat dry or itchy skin, you can:

  • Use an unscented moisturizing cream. Ask your doctor or nurse before using any other type of cream or ointment, because some creams and ointments can cause a rash.

How is vein disease treated?

Doctors can use different treatments to treat symptoms and reduce swelling. These can include:

Special socks, bandages, or devices:

  • "Compression stockings" - special socks that fit tightly over the ankle and leg. If your doctor or nurse recommends that you wear them, he or she will tell you which type to wear and how to put them on.
  • "Compression bandages" - layers of bandages that wrap around a person's leg.
  • "Compression pump" - a device that fits around the leg and squeezes the leg every few minutes.

Special coverings that are put on an open sore to help it heal

Medicines – Doctors can use different types of medicines to treat different symptoms. For example, people who cannot use compression stockings or bandages might be able to try medicines that help the veins work better. People with a skin infection might need antibiotics. People with itchy skin might need a prescription cream or ointment.

Procedures – Doctors can do procedures if other treatments do not work. A doctor can remove or destroy damaged veins so they can no longer fill with blood by liquid or foam sclerotherapy, laser, ambulatory phlebectomy, and the like.

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