• Learn About Leg Vein Problems (Venous Disease): An Overview


    Like a heart attack, pulmonary embolism is a medical emergency that warrants calling 9-1-1. Know the symptoms and respond to them quickly.

    Vein problems can hurt and interfere with your daily activities for the rest of your life if you don’t do something about it. According to the Vascular Disease Foundation, “by the age of 50, nearly 40 percent of women and 20 percent of men have significant leg vein problems.”

    Vein problems, such as blood clots and weak or damaged veins, can interfere with the crucial role of veins in the cardiovascular system — to return blood to the heart and lungs where it is reloaded with the oxygen our bodies need to survive and flourish.

    A pulmonary embolism (PE) is the most serious form of venous disease. It happens when a blood clot from deep within the body breaks free and travels to the lung. PE is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. This means calling 911 and seeking immediate medical treatment if you suddenly and without explanation:

    • Have trouble breathing,
    • Experience sharp pains in the chest, or 
    • Cough up blood or pink, foamy mucus

    Other symptoms of PE include:

    • Anxiety
    • Unexplained heavy sweating
    • Feeling faint or light-headed
    • Racing heart rate

    Many of these symptoms could also signal a heart attack, panic attack or pneumonia—but you won’t know for sure until you get help. Any time you have trouble breathing or think you might be having a heart attack, it is essential to call 911 immediately.

    Other Types of Venous Disease

    PE is usually caused by deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a serious vein problem that should be treated as soon as possible. According to the Vascular Disease Foundation, DVT affects more people each year than heart attack and stroke.

    DVT occurs when one or more blood clots form in veins deep within the body, usually the leg or pelvis. Blood from these deep veins flows to the vena cava (a large vein deep in the abdomen that carries oxygen-depleted blood to the heart and lungs) to pick up more oxygen. So, when blood clots form in these deep veins, they have a direct route to the lungs if they break free.

    Chronic vein insufficiency (CVI) is the most common vein problem that people experience with their legs. Its immediate consequences are not as serious as PE or DVT, but it can affect how you feel every day and it might be a sign that you have more serious problems that should be checked by your doctor.

    You might not have heard of CVI, but you’ve probably heard of varicose veins and spider veins. They are caused by CVI, a problem in the vein that causes blood to flow back into the legs instead of completing its journey to the heart. According to the Society for Interventional Radiology, “varicose veins affect 1 out of 2 people age 50 and older, and 15% to 25% of all adults.”

    Although varicose veins and spider veins are not life threatening, they can be uncomfortable. Fortunately, they can be treated over time with the help of your physician. It is a good idea to see your doctor if your legs hurt or feel uncomfortably heavy, or if you have redness or sores. Your legs are not supposed to hurt! It might not be a matter of life and death, but getting treatment can reduce your risk of other serious problems and make you feel better.

    If you think you have problems with your veins or at risk for developing venous disease, talk with your doctor. Click here for Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Leg Vein Problems to print and take with you for your next appointment.

    You’ll also find more detailed information about leg vein problems below and by clicking on the following links:

    • Types of Leg Vein Problems — We have a system of deep veins and superficial veins that work together to move blood up through the legs and back to the heart. A problem in either type of vein may require treatment to alleviate discomfort and reduce your risk of more serious problems. Click here to learn more about specific problems that can develop within your veins.
    • Symptoms — Most of the time our veins are so good at what they do we don’t give them much thought. But when something goes wrong, it can be painful and even life threatening. If you have chest pain or are coughing up blood, calling 911 immediately is crucial. If your legs hurt or if you have multiple risk factors for leg vein problems, see your doctor. Click here to learn more about other symptoms to discuss with your doctor.
    • Causes and Risk Factors — Learning more about the underlying causes and risk factors of vein disease is a good start toward minimizing your risk for problems. Vein problems in the legs don’t always have symptoms and yet if you have them they can cause serious problems. Click here to find out if you are at risk and should see your doctor.
    • Diagnosis — Your doctor can tell a lot about your condition from your medical history and by examining your legs for symptoms. That combined with ultrasound testing gives your doctor the information he or she needs to find problems that may require treatment. Click here to learn more about what to expect when you see your doctor about a problem with the veins in your legs.
    • Treatment —Treatments for venous disease vary according to the nature and severity of the problem. A good place to begin is a visit to your primary care physician. Together you can decide the treatment option that is right for you. General categories of treatment include:
      • Lifestyle changes
      • Medication
      • Surgery
      • Interventional procedures

    If you want more information, click here to learn more about the treatment and prevention of venous disease.