The purpose of veins, including the network of veins located in the legs, is to transfer blood back to the heart. This process is initiated when the veins closest to the skin, known as the superficial veins, link up with perforating veins, which in turn transport blood to the deep veins (these are located in the calf and the thigh).
In order for the blood to be properly carried back to the heart, the opening and closing valves contained in the veins must be fully operational. If these don’t work properly, varicose veins and venous reflux disorder can occur. A primary symptom of this – the congestion of blood in the affected leg area – can cause a number of symptoms.
Understanding Superficial Venous Reflux
Venous Reflux Disease Symptoms
Known in medical terminology as “telangiectasia”, these veins are also called spider veins because of the “webbing” appearance they have. They are dilated small veins, close to the surface level of the skin, no greater than 2 millimetres in diameter and appearing in a range of hues from red to blue. They mainly occur in the legs, although they can also occur on the face, especially on the nose. They can be embarrassing and ugly, but they are generally not painful or at most cause occasional aching, burning or irritability. Spider veins do not usually pose a risk to patient’s health.
Varicose veins, typically 6mms in diameter or more, are subcutaneous [beneath the skin] blue-ish blood vessels that – in most cases – extend from the main trunk veins. Increased blood pressure in the main trunk veins, such as the Great Saphenous vein, will contribute to their occurrence. Like spider veins, they can be unpleasant, ugly and painful. For example, inflammation known as phlebitis can cause the skin above the vein to redden and burn. Meanwhile, a host of other symptoms can result: these can manifest as a general bodily fatigue or as more ‘leg-centred’ problems of agitation, weightiness, throbbing / pulsing, cramping, and itchiness. Left untreated, venous reflux can progress to other conditions.
Leg Swelling Oedema
Venous reflux disease is a progressive condition that can become a serious issue, with its ramifications extending beyond the unsightliness of varicose veins and their associated discomforts. As the condition worsens, it can lead to leg swelling, a clear indicator that venous valves have become diseased or damaged. The inefficient transfer of blood back to the heart causes blood pooling in the leg, leading to fluid retention called oedema, and venous hypertension (abnormally high blood pressure in the veins).
Another complication of abnormally high blood pressure in the leg, and the improper flow of blood through the perforating and superficial veins, is skin damage. Hyperpigmentation, or an abnormal alteration of skin colour, will result as the venous reflux condition becomes more advanced, while change or deterioration in the consistency of the skin is also likely.
Venous ulcers are recognised as the most serious phase of the venous reflux condition. Another symptom of insufficient blood flow, these wounds typically appear beside the ankle. They result from the perforator vein malfunction associated with venous reflux.1 These ulcers are malodorous, painful and socially isolating. They require longterm bandaging as well as the use of local medicated creams, and occasionally other treatments such as antibiotics. They may be very slow to heal, or indeed fail to heal. It is important that all patients with leg ulcers are adequately medically assessed to outrule other causes of leg ulceration, such as arterial disease. Many patients will benefit from modern treatments for venous reflux disorder.
1 Shafritz, Randy. Combining Bilayered Living Cell Therapy with Minimally Invasive Vein Surgery: Current Treatment Strategies for Venous Ulcers; Supplement to VDM March/April 2007
What causes Varicose Veins
Click opposite to view a 30 second video-clip about venous reflux