Swollen, achy legs could be vein disease

Heaviness, achiness, nighttime leg cramps and nighttime urination could be signs of venous disease.

Heaviness, achiness, nighttime leg cramps and nighttime urination could be signs of venous disease.

The swelling and aching in her legs started long before Lynn retired from her career in business development 11 years ago. Aside from gardening, Lynn’s hobbies, including reading and staying active with crafts, kept her sitting for long periods and she noticed her legs were always exhausted by the end of the day.

“I felt like I was carting around concrete blocks because my legs and my ankles would swell,” Lynn recalled. She also experienced cramping, fatigue and trouble sleeping at night.

She reported that she did not have any visible varicose veins, so it did not occur to her that it might be a venous thing. She had other health issues so she kept thinking her symptoms were related to some of her other health issues.

After doing some research on the various causes of her symptoms, Lynn scheduled an appointment to have her venous system evaluated.  She underwent venous insufficiency ultrasound examination, and then sat down with her vein specialist to discuss the ultrasound findings and treatment options.

After 15 years, Lynn finally learned that a very real and potentially serious vein disease was the cause of her swollen and achy legs. More importantly, she learned that she didn’t have to live with it.

Veins are blood vessels that are specially designed to pump blood back toward the heart, against the force of gravity. Inside the veins are a series of one-way valves that open and close with the rhythm of muscle contractions. Healthy valves close tightly, keeping blood moving upward toward the heart.

With vein disease or venous insufficiency, the valves do not close properly. This allows blood to flow backward down the legs and pool in the veins. The pooled blood can lead to bothersome symptoms such as swollen, achy legs or leg cramping, and other signs of progressive venous disease such as varicose veins, and skin changes that can lead to bleeding veins and leg ulcers. These complications are signals that vein disease is present.

Symptoms and signs of venous disease are numerous. Varicose and spider veins are the most common indicator of vein disease. They are the easiest to diagnose. But in the absence of spider or varicose veins and in the presence of other symptoms such as heaviness, achiness, nighttime leg cramps and nighttime urination, a physician should consider the possibility of underlying venous disease. If you have varicose veins, you most likely have venous insufficiency, but someone can have venous insufficiency without presenting varicose veins.

The investigation of venous disease with ultrasound is accurate and noninvasive that it makes sense to be proactive rather than waiting for the disease to progress or for the complications of the disease to develop.

Patients are simply unaware that a disease process is causing their symptoms and, further, that the disease can be treated. More often, patients tend to accept the way their legs feel and attribute the achiness, cramps, swelling, etc. to the normal result of aging, heredity or being on their feet all day.

For Lynn, the turning point was learning that the feelings she was experiencing were not normal and came from a treatable disease. She encourages others to examine their own situations and seek help if they recognize themselves in the symptoms.

“Do not overlook the fact that your ankles are swelling or your legs are swollen and you have dull, aching pain or cramping at night or interrupted sleep,” she suggests. “Do not push that off and say, 'It’s always been like that' or 'I’ve always had that uncomfortable feeling.'”