While most patients with varicose veins do have symptoms to one degree or another, not all varicose veins cause pain, and the ones that do can be symptomatic of anything ranging from mild venous reflux all the way to a true medical emergency, such as bleeding or clotting. The pain that soften accompanies varicose veins may feel, simply, like a dull, constant ache or heaviness, or it may present itself as a more throbbing, cramping, growing pain after sitting or standing for a long period of time.
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What Causes Painful Varicose Veins?
It is estimated that varicose veins affect approximately 25% or more of the U.S. adult population. Varicose Veins are superficial veins that have lost their ability to appropriately carry blood up and out of the leg. They are most commonly caused by an underlying venous problem known as chronic venous insufficiency, which is a condition caused by the non-functioning valves in your vein walls. Typically, the valve’s job is to keep the blood from flowing backwards. When the valves do not work properly, blood blows backwards towards the feet, instead of flowing to the heart, leading to venous pooling. This condition, known as venous reflux, can cause pain in the legs, as well as varicose veins on the surface of the legs. Once a vein has become varicose, it won’t go back to normal and should be treated, especially if it is causing symptoms.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can be another source of leg pain and can be very serious – even life threatening. A blood clot forms inside a deep vein, typically located in the thigh or lower leg. This blood clot prevents the blood from flowing through the veins properly, leading to swelling and inflammation of the vein (thrombophlebitis). If a DVT breaks loose from the wall of the vein, it can also end up in the lung and cause a pulmonary embolism, which is a medical emergency that can result in fatality.
Superficial thrombophlebitis (STP) is inflammation of a superficial vein just below the surface of the skin leading to decreased blood flow through the vein, damage of the vein and blood clotting. The features of STP include redness to the skin and a firm, tender, warm vein. Localized leg pain and swelling may occur, as well. Fortunately, STP is generally a benign and short-term condition when diagnosed and treated fairly simply with NSAIDs, application of warm, moist compresses, continued activity and the wearing of graduated compression stockings. STP can develop after a vein is injured or after an IV line or catheter has been inserted into a vein. Varicose veins, infections or prolonged periods of standing or sitting can also contribute to the development of STP.
Dr. Craig Schwartz is a triple-board certified vascular surgeon uniquely trained and experienced to both diagnose and treat both the causes and the symptoms of the full spectrum of vein disease. Fortunately, most insurance plans consider the treatment of symptomatic varicose veins to be medically necessary and will provide coverage for treatment. If you are experiencing leg vein pain, please call 913-451-VEIN to schedule a free vein screening sooner rather than later.
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