Vein disease runs deep through America. Roughly one-quarter of American adults have varicose veins. This makes vein disease one of the most prominent medical problems in the United States.
Yet few people are aware of it. They may have seen varicose veins, but they don’t know what kind of medical condition it is.
What exactly is vein disease, and what makes varicose veins different? What are the symptoms and causes of different vein diseases? How do doctors detect it, and how can someone treat their deformed veins?
Answer these questions and you can keep your veins healthy and your blood flowing. Here is your quick guide.
What Is Vein Disease?
The heart pumps blood through vessels that snake throughout the body. Cells supply oxygen and other nutrients to tissues, allowing them to grow and thrive inside the body.
Arteries are what carry blood away from the heart. Veins allow blood to return back to the heart so cells can receive more oxygen. Veins have valves so blood can move through, and these valves change in size and shape as they get closer to the heart.
Vein diseases can affect veins and blood cells in several different ways. Blood clots can form in a vein, which can hurt organs and tissues. Deep vein thrombosis occurs when a blood clot develops in a deep vein and travels into the lungs.
Some blood clots can cause inflammation inside the veins. If this inflammation continues, a person may suffer from swelling.
Some ulcers are the result of vein disease. Venous stasis ulcers occur in the leg, and they come from dysfunctional veins. If they break through the skin, they can create wounds that do not heal.
What Are Varicose Veins?
Veins can move around or grow inside. Varicose veins are any veins that become enlarged, twisted, or deformed.
In and of themselves, varicose veins may cause few problems. Blood can continue to flow through a vein that is not straight.
But they can cause problems if they are not corrected. Many blood clots form inside of varicose veins, then they travel out to sensitive areas like the brain.
Spider veins are a mild type of varicose veins. They look like a spider web or sunburst, and they appear just beneath the skin.
Varicose veins can appear alongside a vein disease, or they can appear by themselves. Someone may not notice their varicose veins until weeks or months after they have surfaced.
Vein Disease Symptoms
Some vein diseases appear without prominent symptoms. A person may not notice anything wrong with them until someone points to their veins.
Veins that become diseased close to the skin may be visible. The skin may become discolored, similar to a bruise or a burn. Someone may feel pain, tenderness, or aching where their skin is discolored.
The symptoms of varicose veins overlap with those of other vein disorders. Some people experience a rash around their veins. Others feel as though their legs have gotten heavier, especially while they are sitting or lying down.
The most common cause of vein disorders is immobility. Veins can become tight and inflexible without blood flowing them. Blood can also pool inside the veins, causing clots if it doesn’t move out.
People who are bedridden or unable to get up for a long period are also at high risk. A blood clot can develop in just a couple of hours, so someone on a long plane flight can have deep vein thrombosis.
Underlying medical conditions can impact the veins. Someone whose blood does not clot properly may develop vein disease. Disorders like lupus impact antibodies that affect blood cells and clotting, which can trigger vein problems.
People who have cancer are at very risk for developing problems with their deep veins. Cancer comes from genetic changes inside cells. These genetic changes can change how blood clots, impacting the shape of veins.
Someone with a family history of varicose veins is at high risk of developing their own deformed veins. Roughly one-half of people with varicose veins come from a family with the disorder.
Older people are more likely to have bad veins than younger people. Wear and tear prevent valves from working. But younger people who are undergoing hormonal changes can develop vein problems, especially if they are pregnant.
How to Detect Vein Disease
There are several ways doctors can detect vein disease. Symptoms and risk factors are clues to help reach a diagnosis, but they are not enough for one. Doctors must find physical evidence of vein disease in a person’s body.
Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) affect how tissues remodel and develop inside the body. Someone with high levels of MMPs may have shorter and more deformed veins.
Doctors can detect MMP levels through blood samples. MMPs lie inside a person’s serum and plasma. Once they are separated, doctors can look at them to see what levels a person has.
Several proteins inside the blood also suggest someone may have inflammation in their veins. A separate blood sample can be used to find these proteins.
Ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of tissues inside the body. It does not rely on radiation, and it is a minimally invasive technology.
You may have seen ultrasound technology to produce images of a fetus in the womb. The same technology can be used to detect vein problems.
A doctor rubs a gel onto a person’s skin. They then place a probe onto the gel, and sound waves travel out of the probe into the body. Waves bounce back into the probe, and a computer creates an image from those waves.
Ultrasound works on deep veins. It can show how veins are shaped and how they are behaving.
If a doctor wants to examine how blood is traveling from the heart to a deformed vein, they can use Doppler ultrasound. It works similarly to regular ultrasound, but it bounces sound waves off of individual red blood cells. It can determine the rate of blood flow by how the waves change in pitch.
Varicose veins do not have to appear beneath the skin. Someone may have one deep within their tissues. This makes it important for anyone at risk of vein disease to get regular screenings from experts.
Magnetic Resonance Angiography
Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) is a type of MRI. MRI scans produce images of deep tissues and organs, but the images do not show individual veins and vessels.
MRA produces a map of a person’s veins. A person lies flat inside an imaging scanner. Magnets spin around the person, producing radio waves that produce images of the person’s veins.
This allows doctors to see any deformities or clots inside the veins. MRA is best for people who may have multiple deformed veins throughout their bodies.
How to Treat Vein Disease
People who are at high risk for vein disease can take steps to prevent it. Regular exercise routines can drive a person’s risk down, even if they don’t engage in strenuous workouts. Going out for a walk every night may be enough to promote vein health.
People who work at desks should get up and stretch every hour or so. They can get standing desks so they remain upright, but they should also take a few steps around their office.
Sclerotherapy is best for diseased veins that are close to the skin, including varicose veins. A doctor injects liquid into the veins, reducing them down to their original sizes.
Endovenous laser treatment involves injecting a catheter inside a deformed vein. A doctor then shoots a laser into the vein, sealing it. Blood can flow into healthy veins and restore nutrients to the surrounding tissues.
Surgery is rarely required for vein disease unless someone is at risk for a major blood clot. A vein in the brain may get closed off so it does not burst.
Treatment is almost always effective. Someone may need to rest for a few days, especially if they have vein disease in their chest or neck.
But they can resume their normal lives afterward. They should remain in touch with a specialist in blood and vein health so they do not develop another vein problem.
The Essentials of Vein Disease
Vein disease is as elaborate as the network of veins itself. Veins let blood cells return to the heart after delivering oxygen.
Vein disease affects blood flow, and varicose veins are deformed and discolored veins. Left untreated, vein disease can cause blood clots and significant pain.
Doctors diagnose vein disease by examining symptoms, risk factors, and images of veins. Ultrasound and MRA images are best. A person can then use sclerotherapy and other measures to correct their veins.
Anyone with vein disease should go to a specialist. The Vein Institute of Pinellas serves the St. Petersburg, Tampa and surrounding areas. Contact us today.