In 1735, Benjamin Franklin wrote the famous line “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” While the little-known context for this quote is actually a letter outlining recommendations for fire safety, today we tend to reference it in matters of health. Knowing about the development and signs of common diseases may enable you avoid them or to recognize symptoms and begin treatment sooner when they do arise. Such is the case with venous disease, which afflicts around 40% of the US adult population. This article provides a brief refresher about how the venous system works and its common afflictions.
The venous system is the network of veins that return blood to the heart. Throughout much of the body, especially the legs, veins fight gravity to move blood vertically. The mechanisms within veins that facilitate the upward movement of blood are special one-way valves that, when closed, look like an inverted ‘V’. As blood is pumped up, the valves open to let it through and then close to prevent the blood from flowing back down. In this way, the blood inches up the veins. This process is fairly straightforward, and typically remains so as long as veins stay healthy. However, if the vein walls or valves are damaged, problems are likely forthcoming.
Most people are familiar with spider veins and varicose veins, and many can see one or both of these types of veins in their own legs. In some cases, spider veins are purely cosmetic, but in other cases they, like varicose veins, indicate that the vein valves are malfunctioning by not closing tightly enough to seal and prevent the backflow of blood. The result is that blood pools in the veins, which can ultimately stretch the vein walls, create pressure throughout the system, and cause tiny red and blue networks of spider veins, or bulging, ropey varicose veins to appear.
This condition is referred to as chronic venous insufficiency or, more simply, venous disease. There is no single cause of this condition, and it can be difficult to pinpoint attributing factors. For some people, genetics plays a significant role; for others, lifestyle. The contraction of muscles in the legs help pump blood through the veins, so people who sit or stand at work for sustained periods may be at greater risk. That said, athletes can also develop spider and varicose veins! Pregnancy is a risk factor for developing venous disease, and it may result from a plain old injury. A significant portion of the population is susceptible to venous disease, so if you develop it, you’re in good company and shouldn’t blame yourself.
Many of the symptoms of venous disease, other than the appearance of spider or varicose veins, are felt. Chronic aching in the legs, itchiness around the ankles, feelings of pressure or fullness in the lower legs, swelling, skin discoloration, throbbing, cramping, or nagging pain may all signal that there is a problem needing to be addressed. It can be easy to ignore these symptoms or misattribute them to other causes. If they don’t cease soon, however, it’s worth talking to a medical professional about them.
The progression of venous disease can be slowed or halted, but not reversed. Once the valves begin failing, steps can be taken to mitigate the effects (for example, wearing compression stockings to create more pressure on leg tissues to support blood flow), or a person may choose to undergo treatment that can eliminate the problem completely. Seeking guidance on the best course of action is advisable, as modern technology enables vein specialists to determine the severity of the disease. Regardless of the approach that one ultimately chooses, it is important to deal with venous disease once diagnosed. Without appropriate intervention, venous disease can create more serious problems like blood clots and skin ulcerations. Check out our before & after page to see some images.
Most modern treatment protocols and procedures are non or minimally invasive. In the mildest cases, a vein specialist might recommend that a patient wear compression stockings and regularly elevate the feet above the heart, and perhaps prescribe medications that assist with blood flow. If the case is more advanced, a patient will want to consider endovenous laser ablation or sclerotherapy. In rare but severe cases, surgery may be the best course of action. Fortunately, in all of these scenarios the patient experiences little discomfort. Procedures such as laser ablation or sclerotherapy typically take place in outpatient vein clinics and require less than an hour per session. Most post-procedure discomfort is manageable with over-the-counter pain medications.
We hope this article has communicated the importance of addressing venous disease swiftly. If you have heard friends or family mention that they are experiencing some of the symptoms described above, it’s worth sharing this knowledge and recommending that they get checked out by a vein specialist or personal physician. Your suggestion could save them a lot of health trouble in the long run and lead to easing pain that is diminishing their quality of life. At Artemis we are always glad to discuss over the phone a person’s symptoms, and suggest whether coming in for a consultation is a good idea. We are a highly experienced medical team backed by state-of-the-art technology, and we take great pride in providing excellent care. Give us a call today or contact us and we will help put you on the path to improved wellness.