According to the American College of Phlebology, more than 80 million Americans suffer from some form of venous disease. With over 60,000 miles of veins in an adult body, that number shouldn’t be too surprising. However, most venous disease occurs in the legs as they are not only the furthest from the heart, but have to fight gravity as well. There are four major common presentations of venous disease: chronic venous insufficiency, varicose vein disease, deep vein thrombosis, and pulmonary embolism. Each of these presentations have their own symptoms and degree of severity, but like any problem with the cardiovascular system, all should be taken seriously and be treated by a specialist.
Chronic venous insufficiency is a general term referring to an inability to return blood to the heart. It, like many venous diseases, can be aggravated by long periods of standing or sitting, which weaken the one-way valves within veins. As this process occurs, blood pools in the calf and ankle instead of flowing back toward the heart. Over time a person will notice the following symptoms: swelling, pain, fatigue, heaviness, or restlessness. In advanced cases bleeding or open sores may develop. Varicose veins are the most common manifestation of chronic venous insufficiency. It is commonly noted for large bulging veins but frequently visible large veins are not initially apparent on the surface.
Like chronic venous insufficiency, varicose veins are due to a weakening in a one-way valve. “This isn’t something that occurs over night, it takes years to develop”, says Dr Thomas Wright at Laser Lipo and Vein Center in St Peters. He also notes that new advances allow treatment on an outpatient basis. He also cautions that if left untreated complications can occur; darkening of the skin called hyperpigmentosis, a thickening of the skin around the veins known as lipodermatosclerosis, bleeding known as hemorrhaging, clotting called a thrombis, and open sores called leg ulcers.
A more serious condition occurs when a blood clot forms within the deep veins, this is known as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). These clots can result from, among other factors, long periods of sitting, earning it the nickname “travelers thrombosis”. The symptoms include feelings of pain and warmth in the legs, accompanied by swelling and redness. This condition should be taken very seriously as there is the possibility of the clot coming loose and becoming lodged in the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism, an extremely serious, life threatening condition requiring immediate medical attention. The most common symptoms of a pulmonary embolism are shortness of breath associated with chest pains and the coughing up of blood.