Are Your Leg Veins Up to Their Uphill Job?

Heart Health News     Spring 2018
Are Your Leg Veins Up to Their Uphill Job - Large

When they’re healthy and working well, the veins in your legs defy gravity. The valves allow blood, to move toward your heart.

But when the vein walls weaken and the valves become damaged, some blood flows backward and pools in your legs.

Symptoms of this condition, called venous insufficiency, vary greatly, says Abdelhamed Abdelhamed, MD, a cardiologist with Premier Heart Associates. “It can be as simple as swelling, discomfort and aching in the legs. Or it can cause big varicose veins that can be unsightly. In more extreme cases, this can cause damage to the skin itself, such as discoloration or sores that don’t heal.”

Causes of Venous Insufficiency

Chronic venous insufficiency affects about 30 percent of the population and is more of a risk for women, due to fluctuating hormone levels, especially after multiple pregnancies. Middle-aged and older adults also are at greater risk. And your risk increases if:

  • Your job requires you to stand in one place or sit a significant part of each day
  • You’ve had leg trauma through injury, surgery or blood clots
  • Your family has a history of venous insufficiency
  • You are overweight, smoke or get insufficient exercise

Diagnosing Venous Insufficiency

Your doctor can diagnose venous insufficiency, starting with an examination and review of your health history and symptoms. To learn more about your condition, your doctor may order tests such as ultrasounds, which can determine the leg veins’ ability to move blood toward the heart.

“It can be as simple as swelling, discomfort and aching in the legs. Or it can cause big varicose veins that can be unsightly."

Treating Venous Insufficiency

In most cases, your doctor can help you manage venous insufficiency by prescribing conservative measures such as:Are Your Leg Veins Up to Their Uphill Job - In Content

  • Wearing compression stockings or elevating legs to aid in upward circulation of blood and control potential swelling
  • Avoiding prolonged sitting or standing
  • Increased exercise to strengthen leg muscles, which help the veins move blood up to the heart. Exercise also helps control weight, reducing the risk for venous insufficiency.
  • Treatment of skin sores caused by the condition. Untreated, these sores can lead to serious health complications.

If your condition is more advanced, your doctor may recommend techniques such as:

  • Vein ablation. Heat is applied to seal off a diseased vein. Blood is rerouted to nearby healthy veins.
  • Sclerotherapy. Salt water or a chemical solution is injected into the vein, which hardens and disappears.

In relatively few cases, surgical procedures are used.

“About 95 percent of the time, a patient will see relief of their symptoms when we have accurately diagnosed their issue and responded with the right type of therapy,” Dr. Abdelhamed says. “Some damages, such as skin discoloration, are not reversible, especially if it is late in the disease, but most symptoms will improve.”