In previous blogs, we have discussed the importance of healthy veins as part of a healthy body. The passageways that deliver oxygen-rich blood to our heart, organs, and extremities are crucial to the health of the body and to maximize our ability to move easily and efficiently without pain or discomfort. The focus of previous articles has been on the aesthetic factors, varicose or spider veins that are unsightly and negatively affect self-image, another aspect of overall health. However, unsightly or not, these conditions can lead to more significant health problems if left untreated.
It is estimated that 1 in 3 Americans over the age of 45 have some type of vein disease*.
The risk of ulcer, stroke, blood clot, and eventual death increase exponentially if minor circulatory conditions are ignored or taken lightly. Although early symptoms may seem minor, they can quickly become more serious. We will highlight some of the most serious and preventable conditions related to vein disease, as well as what you can do to safeguard yourself and your family from the consequences of vein disease.
Conditions Related to Vein Disease
A pulmonary embolism (PE) is the consequence of excessive blood clotting. While the ability to clot blood enables the body to heal, if the body did not naturally staunch blood flow to a wound, every scratch would be a risk of death by loss of blood (see hemophilia). However, when arteries and veins narrow or harden over time, excessive platelet accumulation begins to create a blockage similar to a hair clog in a shower drain. When one of these clots, either the entire clot or a smaller portion, becomes free-moving and travels to the lungs, it may block oxygen from reaching the blood, and a patient can asphyxiate from the inside out.
Chronic Venous Disease (CVD) is a spectrum of chronic conditions related to unhealthy veins. Once a vein becomes diseased or abnormal, the resulting condition falls under the umbrella of CVD. As mentioned above, those varicose and spider veins that were thought to be no more than a nuisance or one more reason to avoid shorts are considered a precursor to much more debilitating health consequences. Leg swelling or leg pain due to malformed veins is similarly considered a CVD symptom, as is, changes in leg skin characteristics such as itching, inflammation, or the appearance of blood pooling below the skin (known as chronic venous insufficiency). Ulceration of the leg area due to decreased blood flow is another symptom of CVD. While any sign of CVD should be taken seriously and medical attention sought, in cases of inflammation it is crucial to seek out the advice of a medical professional at the first sign of trouble.
Phlebitis is inflammation of the vein itself, rather than the entire leg. Thrombophlebitis is inflammation of the vein caused by a thrombus, or blood clot. While many cases of phlebitis and thrombophlebitis are superficial, meaning they occur in surface veins, it is the deep vein variety that is truly life-threatening. When blood begins moving too slowly through your veins, whether because of damage to the veins, cholesterol blockage, or low blood pressure, a blood clot forms. Deep Vein Thrombosis, which is another way to define thrombophlebitis not affecting superficial surface veins, occurs when the clot forms in a large vein. These veins typically are found in the legs, but DVT has been seen in all major vein groups including the arms and pelvis. Although not everyone with DVT immediately shows these symptoms, pay close attention to any: leg or arm swelling that occurs without warning or cause, pain or soreness when standing or walking, warmth in the area that experienced pain or swelling, enlarged veins, or skin that appears red or bluish in tint. If the clot is allowed to break free on its own, it could travel to the heart, lungs, or brain. This can cause an embolism, heart attack, or stroke.
One valuable piece of information to have is what constitutes a risk factor for deep vein thrombosis. Although it can occur at any age, the risk goes up after the age of 40. Pregnancy, poor diet, and lack of movement can increase risk as well. Even sitting for long periods (a pretty standard practice in most professions) causes your leg muscles to relax and circulation more difficult. Pregnancy puts more pressure on the veins in the leg and pelvis, increasing the risk factor for these individuals as well. Lastly, obesity plays an active role in DVT cases, as people with a BMI of 30 or higher increase their risk exponentially. Overall, simple lifestyle changes when undertaken early on in symptom presentation can make a world of difference in your cardiovascular health. Nevertheless, it is essential that you discuss any health concerns with your healthcare provider.
Safeguard Yourself and Your Family
Now that you know some of the negative consequences of ignoring the warning signs of vein disease, and some of the characteristics, what can you as the patient do to safeguard yourself? Knowing the warning signs and risk factors is a good foundation, but sometimes the expertise of a knowledgeable professional can set our minds at ease. Luckily, March is Deep Vein Thrombosis Awareness Month! This public health initiative aims to raise awareness of the potential risks, causes, prevention and treatment options for this common medical condition. Spring of Youth Medical Group is locally joining the cause by offering FREE Vein Screenings during March 2018. Anyone who is at risk for vein disease could benefit from a screening, especially if you have a prior history of vein problems, a family history of DVT or heart failure, are a smoker or obese. The most dangerous form of the disease is the type that goes undiagnosed and untreated. Even if you are not at immediate risk of DVT, all participants receive complimentary educational materials to minimize further risk and a “vein report card” documenting the screening results to share with your primary care physician.
Contact Spring of Youth Medical Group to sign up for your FREE screening now! Fill out the contact form below or give us a call at (228) 875-0885.