Leg vein disease, another term for varicose veins, may be more than a cosmetic issue. It is not uncommon for people to develop varicose veins and spider veins as they age, but researchers have found the dilated veins are related to an increased risk of blood clots. Here’s more on the issue of vein health, courtesy of the Bellamah Vein Center in Missoula, Montana.
The body has two kinds of blood vessels. Arteries are smooth-walled and capable of withstanding higher internal pressures. Veins have tiny flaps of tissue inside, called valves, that prevent blood from flowing backward when the heart pauses between beats. Heredity, long hours on your feet and obesity all increase the chances of varicose veins – swollen, tortuous blood vessels that occur when the valves fail. Spider veins are similar but much smaller and can occur in areas other than the legs. These conditions may produce leg pain, swelling, itching, and cramping. Occasionally, people will even develop ulcers over the veins.
Blood clots in the leg are called deep venous thrombosis or DVT. Leg vein disease is known to increase the risk of superficial thrombosis, or phlebitis. This condition occurs when the sluggish blood flow leads to congestion, swelling, redness, and pain around the affected vein. A more serious condition, DVT occurs in the larger veins of the legs. Blood clots that form in these veins can break off and travel to the lungs or brain, causing a pulmonary embolus (blood clot in the lungs) or stroke. Both of these are life-threatening medical emergencies and require immediate, extensive treatment.
Researchers in Taiwan have found an association between varicose veins and DVT. In a study of more than 425,000 people, those who had varicose veins had an increased risk of DVT 5.3 time higher than those without DVT. The study did not show, however, that the varicose veins actually caused DVT. Researchers also found an increased risk of pulmonary embolism and narrowing of arteries in the leg in those with varicose veins. However, those who participated in the study tended to be people who had serious varicose veins and who had sought treatment. The study was reported in the February issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
While some people will still develop varicose veins as they age, you can help prevent them. Although heredity can increase your risk, smoking, obesity, and lack of exercise are all matters you can control or at least influence. If you do develop varicosities, a vein specialist like Dr. Bellamah can offer various treatment strategies. Conservative measures include wearing compression stockings and keeping the legs elevated when possible. Sclerotherapy, phlebectomy, radiofrequency ablation and treatments such as Venaseal can also be helpful.
If you have varicose veins, particularly if they cause uncomfortable symptoms such as pain and swelling, please contact our office at 406-203-1866. Dr. Bellamah can assess your situation and make recommendations for treatment that can improve the appearance of your leg veins. Treatment may also decrease your risk of DVT.