Types of Leg Vein Problems

When was the last time you thought about your veins? Maybe when you gave blood? And yet they are an integral part of the vascular system that keeps us alive-day in and day out-whether we think about it or not. Veins are the blood vessels that carry blood back to the heart and into the lungs to be replenished with the oxygen and nutrients the body needs to function and stay healthy.

For the blood to get to the heart from the legs it must travel upwards, against gravity. It does this with the help of the veins and the muscle that surrounds them. When we stand and walk, the muscles constrict, squeezing the veins and pushing the blood toward the heart through a system of valves. When we sit or at rest, the muscles relax and valves within the veins close to prevent blood from flowing back into the legs and feet.

About 90 percent of our blood returns to the heart by way of the deep veins-veins that lie deep within the body. The other two types of veins are superficial and connecting. Superficial veins are the ones you can see through your skin. They carry blood from tissue closer to the surface of your skin to the deep veins where the blood flows to the heart. Connecting veins carry blood from the superficial veins to the deep veins.

Unfortunately, our veins can also develop problems. The following chart lists and describes the most common vein problems that can develop in the legs. Some are more serious than others, but all are worth discussing with your doctor.

Type of Vein ProblemDescription
Thrombosis A blood clot in the vein. Blood clots can block blood flow or break free and travel through the blood stream to the heart and lungs (pulmonary embolism).
Thrombophlebitis Swelling caused by a blood clot in the vein. It can occur in the superficial or deep veins.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) With DVT, blood clots form in the large veins deep within the legs, pelvis, and sometimes in the arms. DVT strikes about 1 in 20 people over the course of a lifetime.
Pulmonary Embolism (PE) When a blood clot breaks free from a deep vein and makes its way into an artery in the lung, it is called a pulmonary embolism (PE). PE is life-threatening condition that can cause heart failure. It is important to call 911 if you have trouble breathing or if you are coughing up blood.
Post-Thrombotic Syndrome
(also known as post-phlebitic syndromeand venous stress disorder)
In this condition, the symptoms of pain, heaviness in the leg or foot, cramps; itching; tingling; bluish or brownish, flaky skin; sores; and varicose veins caused by DVT continue after treatment, either because the blood clot is still there or the blood clot caused other damage to the vein.
Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI)
  • venous reflux
  • high blood pressure in the vein (venous hypertension)
  • varicose veins
  • spider veins
CVI is damage or weakness in the vein wall or vein valve that allows blood to flow back into the vein (venous reflux). The backflow of blood accumulates in the veins and causes inflammation (phlebitis) and more clotting. Clotting can block or slow blood flow through the vein raising the blood pressure and possibly causing more damage. Varicose and spider veins are caused by the accumulation of the blood from venous reflux.
Phlebitis Swelling in the deep or superficial veins is called phlebitis.
Venous Sores When pressure in the veins continues for a long time, it can break down healthy tissue, which causes ulcers or sores.
Congenital Vascular Malformation
(includes birthmarks)
This is a catch-all term for the very few people, less than 1 percent, who are born with veins that are defective in some way. For example, the veins may not have valves. This category also includes birthmarks that are a cluster of veins close to the skin.

Click here to learn about diagnosis and treatment of leg vein problems, and for more information about working with your doctor to make the best treatment choices for yourself or your loved one.

Varicose veins are something that millions of Americans suffer from. In fact, 1 of every 5 adults in the U.S. struggles with varicose veins, making this a major issue that is either happening to you or someone you know. But varicose veins are not the only vein problem striking men and women across the country today. There are a number of different venous diseases people may find themselves suffering from.

Which leads us to the first question you likely have. . .

What are Venous Disorders?

This type of disorder that attacks your veins is caused by veins in your feet and legs being unable to function as they are normally supposed to. “But what exactly is their normal function?” you ask.

To put it simply, your veins work to pump blood toward your heart. However, over time, your veins’ valve walls can weaken (especially since they are working to pump your blood up your body, a.k.a. against gravity), which causes the blood to flow backward and end up pooling in your legs and feet.

You will typically see the first signs of something like this as varicose veins. However, if you don’t attack your vein problems when they first surface and rather let your vein disease go untreated for too long, you are potentially putting your life at risk of developing deep vein thrombosis.

The Most Common Venous Disorders

Varicose Veins
Varicose veins are enlarged veins that often appear ropey and look blue or red. They also occur deeper under your skin where you are not able to see them. People who suffer from this condition often have a family history of varicose veins. They frequently affect pregnant women and those with occupations that require long periods of standing such as nurses and teachers. Aside from their unpleasant appearance, side effects of varicose veins include pain, fatigue, itching, burning, swelling, cramping, restlessness and throbbing.

Spider Veins
Spider veins are tiny, thin veins that can be seen very close to the skin’s surface. They look like red, blue or green spider webs just beneath the skin. Sometimes they are described as looking like marble. Spider veins are caused by a lack of blood. These become nonfunctional, “dead-end veins.”

Deep Vein Thrombosis
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is the formation of a blood clot (thrombus) within a deep vein. It mainly affects large veins that are deep inside the lower leg and thigh. DVT can be life-threatening if the clot breaks off, travels, and lodges in the lung. Veins that appear as enlarged and visible near the surface of the skin may signal this potentially serious health issue.

Many people with varicose veins experience pain, swelling, heaviness, and fatigue in their legs. In some cases, the leg veins may become inflamed and painful – a condition known as superficial phlebitis. Sometimes phlebitis can be associated with superficial vein thrombosis (SVT). A recent study published in the Archives of Dermatology indicated that one in four patients with SVT also had deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

What Causes Venous Disorders?

There are a number of different factors that can cause someone to develop vein problems such as those above, but these are the most common ones that vein specialists see.

Sitting too much
When you sit for a great deal of time, you are putting more pressure on your legs, as well as keeping your veins working hard against gravity to get your blood back up to your heart. This combo can not only make your vein-related disorders worsebut can also be the reason that they show up in the first place.

While we understand that many jobs require sitting for most of the day, make it a habit to stand up every 30 minutes and walk around to get your blood flowing again. Even elevating your legs on your desk for a few moments will be a great help to your veins.

While we know that varicose veins and other venous diseases do not only occur in older people, age is one of the factors that contribute to the development of varicose veins. To give you some numbers, varicose veins pop up in 1 of every 2 people over the age of 50.

Family History
There’s no battling your genes when it comes to venous disorders. This unfortunate fact means that your genes play a large role in determining whether you’re destined for vein problems or not. If someone in your family has a history of venous disorders, your chances of suffering the same are greatly increased.

While you certainly can’t change your genes, your age, or maybe even your job that requires you to be sedentary most of the day, you can make small changes in your life that will help lower your risk of developing venous disorders.

Here are some of the best things you can do to help combat the onset of vein problems:

  • Get up and walk every 30 minutes, even if it’s just around your house
  • Schedule two 20-30 minute walks into your day - in the morning, and in the evening
  • Ensure your diet is healthy and balanced
  • Stretch your legs throughout the day
  • Avoid wearing clothing that is too tight and cuts off blood circulation
  • Drink more water
  • Elevate your legs whenever possible

Doctors and medical researchers have been able to develop procedures to help with vein issues that are non-invasive and require little-to-no downtime.

What treatment you’ll need for your vein issues is dependent upon the problem, and the severity of your vein struggles. However, these are the treatments that are offered at Vein Clinics of America, the most trusted national vein clinic in the United States:

While venous disorders are certainly something you want to worry about, they are not something to lose sleep over. As long as you stay on top of keeping your veins as healthy as possible, and contact your nearest vein specialist if anything seems out of the norm, you should be on track to keep your vein health under control. If you are suffering from any venous disease symptoms, don’t wait.