Are varicose veins the sign of a bigger health problem?
There are plenty of major diseases on the public radar. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity gather the bulk of media attention. But with about 50 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 60 having some form of vein disease and varicose veins found in patients as young as 11 years old, Americans are now faced with another growing and potentially life-threatening health concern.
Veins are the key to a healthy heart and body. They pump blood back to the heart to be re-charged with oxygen. Veins have valves that open and close when the body’s muscles contract and relax, keeping blood flowing in one direction. When the valves don’t work properly, blood flows in both directions leading to vein disease. Continue reading below..
“So many people see they have varicose veins and it doesn’t occur to them that there could be a bigger problem,” said Dr. Nick Morrison, a world-renowned phlebologist and founder of the Morrison Vein Institute, with offices in Scottsdale and Tempe, Ariz. “What they may not understand is that if they develop a deep vein clot (DVT) as a result of poor venous blood flow, it could lead to life-long disability or even death.”
Each year, the US sees between 300,000 to 600,000 cases of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), or a blood clot in a deep vein, and Pulmonary Embolism (PE), when the blood clot breaks free and travels to the lung. Roughly 60,000 to 100,000 people die from DVT and PE every year. Many of those with DVT or PE also have complications like leg pain and swelling that can greatly hinder quality of life.
Vein disease does not discriminate by age, gender or race, and often brings a hereditary link. At least 75 percent of patients with varicose veins have a family history. If both parents have varicose veins, there’s a 90 percent chance the child will develop them as well.
Morrison cautions that vein disease symptoms can sometimes be as subtle as the mere appearance of varicose veins, but could also become more pronounced. Some of the more common symptoms include: leg swelling, warmth in the skin, itching, redness and leg fatigue. Rapid pulse, feeling lightheaded and chest pain for a person with vein problems could also be the signs of a serious health condition.
Because of the hereditary nature of vein disease, cure is not possible. But early diagnosis and treatment can lead to an improved quality of life. Removing unwanted veins using advanced methods like thermal ablation, foam sclerotherapy, wearing compression stockings and making important diet and lifestyle changes can make a profound positive impact on a person’s life.
“There are so many simple changes like increasing physical activity and weight loss that can help patients live healthy, productive and pain-free lives. But it is important to identify the issues first. A vein screening is a must,” he said.
Checkups, changing perceptions
In November, the Morrison Vein Institute initiated its vFree (Vein Disease Free) campaign. It runs through the end of 2015 and offers free vein checkups. Patients can also visit the institute’s website to take the online vFree quiz, a private and confidential self assessment that helps patients make informed decisions about the current state of their veins.
Morrison hopes to expand the conversation about vein health, making it less about cosmetic concerns and more focused on the core issue of health. Since vein disease is often hereditary, it’s extremely important for loved ones to have candid conversations with their siblings about getting checkups and living a vein healthy lifestyle.
“Many times someone will try to hide their unsightly veins instead of addressing them. It’s imperative that we pull the mask off the assumption that varicose veins are merely cosmetic,” he added.