Comparison of Healthy Vein Valves to Diseased Vein Valves

The arteries carry blood from the heart throughout the body. The aortic artery travels down the mid-line and splits into the femoral arteries, which travel down the inner thigh. Veins bring the blood back to the heart. All veins have valves that prevent the blood from flowing backward due to gravity. These valves are especially important in the legs.

If the veins lose their elasticity or become dilated for extended lengths, this prevents the valves from closing properly and results in venous reflux disease. Severely compromised veins hold pooled blood, which causes a number of problems.


Symptoms

The most common symptoms of every type of venous reflux are:

  • Pain
  • Muscle cramping
  • Fatigue
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Burning
  • Throbbing

Some types of the disease cause formation of varicose veins, also known as spider veins. These are severely compromised veins holding pooled blood. Left untreated, the disease sometimes results in changes in the skin's pigmentation and/or scarring of the lower legs.


Causation and Prevention

The leading cause of venous reflux disease is genetic predisposition according to some experts. They point to epidemiological studies showing 70 percent of patients with a close relative suffering the disease. However, a genetic predisposition must be triggered for development of the disease.

Pregnant woman holding her stomach

One trigger is seen with the hormonal changes of pregnancy and menopause. Women are on average 3-4 times more likely to have the disease versus men. A number of lifestyle choices also factor into the disease. Birth control pills and hormone replacement are thought to initiate the problem or make it worse. Obesity puts extra pressure on the surface veins of the legs while removing the support of underlying muscle tissue. Prolonged periods of standing in place and consistently wearing tight clothing are also thought to influence disease development.

These causes provide a starting point for prevention. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are the best ways to prevent venous reflux disease and associated varicose veins. Cardiovascular training aids the timely delivery of hormones and elimination of hormone by-products from the blood as well. Unfortunately, preventive methods do not resolve an existing problem. They may, however, slow progression of the disease and ease symptoms.


Treatment

Major advances in treatment of venous reflux allow much more rapid recovery and reduced risk of complications in comparison with past methods. Radiofrequency vein ablation, for instance, uses a tiny catheter inserted into the vein to emit microwave radiation sealing the affected vein(s). Other options are simply different techniques for closing off surface veins. Deep veins are surrounded by muscle tissue and rarely have problems with reflux. Several types of sclerotherapy use chemicals or heat to seal the surface veins.

Regardless of the method used, lifestyle changes are often recommended for the prevention of further varicose veins. Doctors sometimes recommend compression stockings or resting with the legs elevated at certain times during the day. Vascular Specialists will provide individualized treatment options based off a comprehensive diagnosis.


Prevention Tips

We have put together a simple infographic on a few ways to help prevent this condition from forming or worsening.

View Prevention Infographic