Your veins are probably not something you think about every day as they quietly do their job carrying blood back to your heart. Until one day, when you see a purple spider vein or the bulge of a varicose vein on your leg, and you feel the throbbing, tightness or pain they bring. Then you think about your veins.
Vein Disease Overview
Vein disease is an umbrella term to cover a variety of vein issues, such as varicose veins, spider veins, bulging veins, chronic venous insufficiency, and even atherosclerosis, commonly called hardening of the arteries. Johns Hopkins University estimates that approximately 15 percent of the US population has a vein disease. That’s between 30 and 45 million Americans. One of them may be you.
Vein disease symptoms include:
- Tight feeling in your calves
- Itchy and sore legs
- Ankle or leg swelling
- Leg discomfort or urgent need to move your legs
- Purplish bumps and bulges, usually on your legs
- Pain in your lower legs, especially when walking or running
- Strong leg cramps or spasms
- Skin discoloration, often around your ankles
Anyone can get vein disease, but it is more common if you are:
- Taller than average
- A smoker
- Have a family history of vein problems
- Spend your day sitting or standing for long periods
- Have a job that includes a lot of repeated heavy lifting
- Have damage to your veins, such as a leg injury
Vein Disease Diagnosis
A doctor will diagnose vein disease by doing a physical examination. They may also use ultrasound to view your veins. Your doctor will ask about family history of vein problems since they tend to occur in families. They’ll also ask about your lifestyle.
Vein disease is diagnosed when your veins do not adequately circulate your blood due to failures in the valves or walls or both. Your veins contain a series of valves that move your blood through them and back to your heart. The valves are supposed to ensure that blood only goes in one direction, toward the heart.
In many types of vein disease, including the most common, varicose veins, either these valves themselves or the vein walls become damaged and no longer work properly. They allow some blood to flow backward through the valve, away from your heart.
Over time, your vein walls weaken and more blood pools in your lower body, since your veins cannot move it properly back to your heart. That’s when you will notice the knots and lumps of varicose veins. You may also experience blood pooling around your ankles, leg pain or itching, restless legs, cramps, or leg ulcers.
Vein Disease Treatment
There are a variety of treatments that can help alleviate the symptoms of vein disease. Try these strategies and treatments, alone or in combination.
Exercise and Moving Around
If your job has you sitting for long periods of the day, make time every hour to get up and move around. Experts find this improves productivity, as well. Set a timer for 10 minutes before the hour and take a stroll to fill up your water bottle or use the restroom. Take a long way back around to your desk.
If you’re on a long plane ride, also follow this advice and get up and move around when you can during the flight.
A sedentary lifestyle contributes to vein issues and blood pooling in your legs. Walking, aquatic exercise, cycling, Tai Chi, yoga, and other activities that get you up and moving will help improve your circulation and your vein issues.
Try using stockings or leg sleeves to boost your circulation and provide support for your lower leg.
Elevating your legs can improve blood flow and reduce swelling. Doctors at Hopkins recommend elevating your legs above your heart for 10 minutes every hour, if possible. You can also raise the foot of your bed two to four inches to aid with circulation at night.
Yoga can help treat the vein disease by improving your blood flow through the gentle stretches and movement. Specific yoga positions known as “inversions” are also excellent for helping your veins do their job. Shoulder stands and their lighter version, known as “legs up the wall” are examples of inversions that use gravity to relieve pressure on your legs and improve blood flow to your heart.
Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)
This outpatient procedure uses lasers or radio frequency waves to cauterize and close diseased veins. When a vein closes, your body reroutes the blood to other healthy veins. This then reduces blood pooling and improves overall blood flow. You’ll need a doctor trained in RFA to perform the procedure.
Sclerotherapy is a treatment for vein disease that is done by a trained physician in their office. The doctor injects a hardening chemical along the affected veins. The solution causes the veins to harden, flatten, and turn into scar tissue. Later they will be absorbed by the body completely.
With the diseased veins out of the picture, your body uses nearby, non-diseased veins to carry the blood. Most people experience immediate pain reduction and visible improvement immediately after treatment. More than one session is often needed to clear all of the diseased veins or to treat new ones.
You don’t have to suffer from the pain of vein disease. Between lifestyle changes and various treatments, you can improve your circulation and reduce your pain substantially. Make sure you visit your doctor to obtain a diagnosis for which type of vein disease you have so that you can be sure your treatments are tailored and that you haven’t missed an underlying cause.
At Nually, our mission is to keep you informed about various conditions that lead to pain and to help you find relief. Once you get your vein disease treated, you’ll be free to wear shorts confidently again.