Approximately half of the Canadian population has venous disease. Many have visible varicose veins, where others have no visible signs. Many view venous disease as a medical concern, whereas others view it as a cosmetic concern. It can affect men and women of all ages and activity levels, and while it has a strong genetic component, venous disease can be aggravated by lifestyle choices, pregnancy, and other factors.
Symptoms of Venous Disease can include:
- swelling of the legs or ankles (edema)
- pain that gets worse when you stand and subsides when you raise your legs
- leg cramps
- aching, throbbing, or a feeling of heaviness in your legs
- itchy legs
- weak legs
- thickening of the skin on your legs or ankles
- skin that changes colour, especially around the ankles
- leg ulcers
- varicose veins
- a feeling of tightness in your calves
Understanding Venous Disease
Venous disease is the impairment of blood flow toward your heart. Understanding venous disease means understanding the system of veins that make up our legs.
Our legs are comprised of a network of veins that are similar to branches on a tree: they contain major veins and increasingly smaller veins. Oxygenated blood is constantly being pumped from the heart to the rest of our bodies through arteries. It is the job of our veins to carry deoxygenated blood back to the heart.
Healthy veins have valves that open and close to assist in the return of blood to the heart. Venous disease (also called vein insufficiency), occurs if these valves become damaged, allowing the backward flow of blood in the legs. Because gravity works on the legs more than on other parts of the body, these vein walls are under near constant pressure due to the weight of the blood. When blood cannot be properly returned through the vein, it can pool, leading to a feeling of heaviness and fatigue, as well as causing varicose and spider veins (which appear blue because the blood is deoxygenated) and other skin changes. Over time, this increased pressure can cause additional valves to fail. If left untreated, it can lead to leg pain, swelling, ulcers, blood clots and other health problems.
There are several risk factors that contribute to Venous disease. Aging is one of the most important risk factors. Small venous problems often progress into large ones over time. A decrease in the body’s production of collagen breaks down the elastic material in vein walls, ultimately resulting in bulging veins, more visible veins, and swelling in the veins.
Genetics is also a significant risk factor. Vein disorders run in families, and if you have a family member with spider or varicose veins, you are more likely to develop them yourself.
Ethnicity also plays a role. Research has found that Caucasians have a higher incidence of varicose veins than people of Hispanic, African American, and Asian descent.
Mobility, or lack thereof, can be an important contributor. Sitting, lying, and particularly standing for long periods of time impede the ability of the leg muscles to pump blood.
Venous Disease is Progressive
When people encounter any of the symptoms of venous disease, they should consider it to be an early stage symptom of a serious medical disorder, which, left untreated, can lead to worsening symptoms and complications in overall health and well-being. Long-standing varicose veins can lead to swelling which in turn can lead to pain, skin changes and ulcers. Because of its progressive nature, treating venous disease is never simply cosmetic, though many people view it as such.
Symptoms are Treatable
Treatment can help manage venous disease by eliminating pain and improving appearance and overall health. Today’s treatments are minimally-invasive, cause very little pain, and generally have no downtime. Treatment can stop the progression of the disease and its complications, for those in its early stages. For those struggling with later stage symptoms, it can restore health and quality of life.