Remember back in high school anatomy class, where the teacher explained how your body worked, and you were like, “yeah, yeah, yeah. What’s on the test?” Don’t you wish you’d paid more attention?
Maybe you do, or perhaps you don’t. But as you head into your 30s and beyond, your body needs a lot more of your attention and your understanding.
Your body is made up of a number of pretty complex systems. And it can be confusing to know what’s what. Since our specialty is veins, that’s what we’re going to focus on in this article—your veins, venous disorders, what they do, and what happens when they get sick.
So, Just What is a Vein?
A vein is a blood vessel. It’s a flexible, hollow tube that carries blood around the body. It’s smaller than an artery, which is also a blood vessel. And its job is to take deoxygenated blood back to the heart.
This is crucial – deoxygenated blood also carries cellular waste, and you don’t want that hanging around in your body. You want your veins to deliver it back up to your heart, which will then return it to your lungs, and then your lungs will exhale all that waste out of your body.
Think about it- after you exhale, then you inhale fresh oxygen that goes to your blood supply and gets carried by your arteries to all of those hungry cells to start the cycle over again.
How Does Blood Move Against Gravity?
Veins have a one-way valve, which makes your blood flow upward against gravity. When your muscles contract, the valve opens up and allows blood to move through the veins. When your muscles relax, the valve closes and keeps them from flowing backward. The valves and leg and arm muscles contract to help keep the blood moving towards the heart.
As they get closer and closer to the heart, veins become larger and larger. The superior vena cava brings blood from the head and arms to the heart. The inferior vena cava brings blood from the abdomen and legs into the heart. When the valves inside any vein become damaged as a result of venous disease, they may not close completely, which will allow blood to leak backward or flow in both directions.
What are Venous Diseases?
Venous diseases can really muck up the circulatory system and your body as a whole. Vein disease can range from mild cosmetic issues to severe health risks. Let’s take a look at the most common veinous diseases in order of severity.
Spider veins are small, damaged veins that can spread like spider webs on the surface of the legs or face. They can be blue, purple, or red. Typically they are not painful or harmful, but some people treat them for cosmetic reasons. They are caused by weakened valves or increased pressure on weakened vein walls.
Varicose veins are large, twisted veins that push up under the skin. They can occur in any superficial vein but the veins most commonly affected are those in your legs.
For many people, varicose veins are mild and merely a cosmetic concern that can be fixed with vein removal treatment. But others may experience symptoms of aching pain, swelling, and discomfort. A doctor should check varicose veins to make sure there are no underlying causes or other concerns.
Superficial Venous Thrombosis or Phlebitis
These blood clots develop in veins that are close to the surface of the skin. They do not usually travel to the lungs unless they move from the superficial system into the deep venous system first. They are, however, typically painful.
These open wounds or sores are caused by static blood flow or venous stasis ulcers. Ulcers are defined by their resistance to healing or continual recurrence. Venous stasis ulcers are located below the knee, usually on the inner part of the leg and just above the ankle.
Chronic Venous Insufficiency
This condition is characterized by chronic leg swelling, blood pools, increased pressure, increased pigmentation or discoloration of the skin, and leg ulcers (venous stasis ulcer.)
These can be found in veins just about anywhere:
- Internal organs (kidney, spleen, intestines, liver, pelvic organs)
- Brain (cerebral vein thrombosis)
- Kidneys (renal vein thrombosis)
- Lungs (pulmonary embolism)
Blood clotting disorders can be life-threatening and should be diagnosed and treated may a doctor.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
Although not life-threatening in itself, DVT can be deadly. Deep vein thrombosis occurs when a blood clot grows in a deep vein of your upper extremity (arms) or lower extremity (legs). If the blood clot breaks free and travels through the bloodstream, it can become lodged in the lung’s blood vessels. This will cause a pulmonary embolism, which can be a life-threatening condition.
When Your Veins Get Sick, What Can You Do?
It depends on risk factors and which condition you’ve got. Some can be treated holistically at home, while others require non-surgical or surgical options. The goals of treatment are to reduce the symptoms of venous diseases and reduce the risk of complications. Working with a health care provider is the key to determine the best course of treatment.
How Can We Help?
Dr. Norton started Denver Vein Center in 2004 after many years of treating patients for venous disease in a hospital setting. Her research shows that the efficacy of treating patients in the office for venous diseases is something to warrant and also shows higher patient satisfaction.
Dr. Norton is a Registered Physician in Vascular Interpretation as well as a Registered Vascular Technologist. This allows her to do all of her own ultrasounds, giving patients the most accurate treatment plan at the time of their visit.
If you’re ready to help your veins get back to optimal health, contact us for a consultation!