Types of vein disease

Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are abnormally enlarged veins that appear most often on the legs. They are typically blue or skin-coloured, and appear as twisting, bulging vessels. They are a very common problem, and affect up to 40% of women and 30% of men. Many people consider varicose veins as only a cosmetic condition, but left untreated, the disease can progress to chronic venous insufficiency.

Spider Veins

Spider veins are clusters of tiny blood vessels that develop close to the surface of the skin. They are often red, blue or purple, and they have the appearance of a spider web. They are commonly found on the face and legs. They are usually not associated with specific symptoms alone, but often occur together with varicose veins or chronic venous insufficiency leading to other symptoms.

Chronic Venous Insufficiency

Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) is a condition that develops over many years, and occurs when the vein wall and/or valves in the leg veins don’t work effectively, causing blood to collect or pool in these veins. If left untreated, the pressure increases until the tiniest blood vessels in the legs (capillaries) burst, causing a reddish-brown skin discolouration. This causes local tissue inflammation and damage, which is sensitive to being broken if bumped or scratched, leading to infection, known as cellulitis, or open sores on the skin surface, known as ulcers. These ulcers can be difficult to heal.


Cause of Vein Disease

Veins carry blood back to the heart. You have three types of veins: superficial veins which lie close to the skin, deep veins which lie within the muscles, and perforating veins which connect the superficial to the deep veins. They have a series of one-way valves to avoid backflow of blood. These valves can become leaky for a variety of reasons, allowing backflow and pooling of blood and pressure within the vein. When the superficial veins are affected, this leads to varicose veins and spider veins. Over a long period, or when the deep veins are affected, this causes chronic venous insufficiency.

Risk factors for vein disease
  • Family history of varicose veins
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Prolonged standing/sitting
  • Age over 50
  • History of blood clots or deep vein thrombosis
  • Inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Female gender

The symptoms of varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency are very similar and include:

  • Swelling in the lower legs, especially after extended periods of standing or sitting
  • Throbbing pain and leg cramps
  • Aching and heaviness or tiredness in the legs
  • Flaking or itching skin of the legs
  • Reddish-brown discolouration of the skin
  • Leathery-looking skin on the legs
  • Leg ulcers

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