About 300,000 people die of blood clots every year. There are also 600,000 new cases of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) occurring annually as well. Sometimes going undetected, DVT is a serious vein problem that could lead to a potentially fatal Pulmonary Embolism (PE), where a blood clot travels to the lungs.
Many Americans, however, may not realize these problems exist. They have been led to believe that vein disease - often first seen as varicose veins in the legs - is strictly a cosmetic concern. That couldn't be further from the truth, says Dr. Nick Morrison, a trained phlebologist and founder of Morrison Vein Institute in Phoenix. "If you're concerned about your legs not looking great this summer, you should also understand the bigger connection to the heart that your venous system has," Morrison noted.
““These symptoms often go untreated because they come on so slowly through the years. So it’s really common for people to think they’re just signs of aging.” ”
Dr. Nick Morrison, Founder, Morrison Vein Institute
An overlooked connection
The veins in your legs pump blood to your heart through millions of small veins and some larger ones like the great saphenous vein (GSV) and the lesser saphenous vein (LSV). This allows blood to move to the lungs where it can be oxygenated. The heart then pumps the fresh blood through arteries throughout the rest of the body. Considerable attention is given to
arterial disease and the plaque build-up that taxes the heart as it pushes blood through those constricted channels. But when veins fail, oxygen-poor blood pools in areas of the legs. The veins bulge into varicosities or smaller spider veins. Unique valves inside these veins that help keep the blood moving up the leg no longer function – and your heart suffers as a result. "If your veins are in bad shape, less blood is making its way to the heart," Morrison said. "A compromised venous system is really the precursor to heart troubles."
Signs and symptoms
With varicose veins, certain aches and pains can creep up. The American College of Phlebology
(ACP) says the following symptoms are often mistakenly attributed to problems like arthritis, aging or muscle fatigue. But they are signs your venous systemneeds attention.
- Leg swelling
- Restless legs
- Itching and burning in the legs
- Leg heaviness, aches
- Leg cramps, throbbing
"If you have at least three of these symptoms, you should get a vein checkup," Morrison added. "These symptoms often go untreated because they come on so slowly through the years. So it's really common for people to think they're just signs of aging."
What you can do right now
- Lifestyle changes can help. If you have varicose veins, Morrison suggests the following:
- Avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time.
- Wear compression stockings as much as possible.
- Adopt a diet rich with fruits and vegetables. Visit myplate.gov for meal-planning guidance.
- See a specialist who uses advanced ultrasound technology, which can detect more serious vein problems.