Venous disease is a term used to describe a number of conditions that affect the veins and circulatory system. These conditions include, but are not limited to venous insufficiency, blood clots, varicose veins and venous malformations.
Venous insufficiency occurs when the veins are no longer able to keep blood flowing in the right direction. Your veins rely on tiny structures called valves to keep blood flowing back to the heart. When these valves fail, blood can collect in the lowest part of your body — usually your legs and feet — and cause vein problems.
Blood clots can form in any vein in your body, including the brain, liver and other major organs. They can also form in your arms and legs, and potentially travel to other areas of your body. A clot that stays in place is called a thrombus. A clot that moves to a different area is called an embolus. Clots are potentially life-threatening because they can block blood flow to a major organ, causing it to stop functioning.
Varicose veins are those swollen, bulging veins seen most often on the legs and feet that sometimes appear bluish in color. These result from blood flow that has backed up and collected in the veins of the lower extremities, usually as a result of malfunctioning valves in the veins.
Venous malformations are hereditary conditions where the veins do not form properly. They could be missing valves, they could have weak walls, or they could form large growths. Venous malformations could go unnoticed for years and most are benign. However, some could be potentially life-threatening. Venous malformations can appear anywhere in your body.
It is possible to have more than one venous condition, because they tend to have similar risk factors. Also, one venous disorder can cause another: for example, venous insufficiency can lead to blood clots.
Risk factors for venous disease
There are seven major risk factors for venous disease:
- Age: as the veins age, they tend to weaken, which can lead to venous insufficiency
- Other illnesses: hypertension, diabetes and certain clotting disorders can all contribute to venous disease
- Family history: if your parent, grandparents or siblings have venous disease, you could be more likely to develop a similar condition
- Medications: certain medications, such as hormonal birth control, can cause blood clots
- Lack of exercise: in addition to the valves, your veins also rely on muscle contractions to keep blood flowing. Prolonged periods of sitting, or standing in one place, can lead to venous insufficiency and also increase your risk for blood clots
- Surgery or trauma to the veins can cause venous insufficiency, and blood clots
- Lifestyle: a poor diet can make existing illnesses worse and contribute to venous disease. Smoking and drug and alcohol use can also cause blood clots and venous insufficiency
Tips for preventing venous disease
Although you can’t change the hereditary factors for venous disease, you can make lifestyle changes to improve your vein health and reduce your risk of complications from venous disease.
- Get regular exercise, including cardiovascular exercise, strength training and stretching. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend 150 minutes of moderate activity per week.
- Eat a healthy diet with a focus on whole, unprocessed foods and drink plenty of water. Avoid foods that are high in sodium, which can make you retain water and lead to vein damage.
- If you have a vein damaging illness, take all of your medication as directed and follow your doctor’s instructions for managing your illness.
- Quit smoking and reduce your alcohol intake, especially if you take hormonal birth control.
- Get out of your chair and walk around as much as possible, especially if you work in an environment where you sit a lot, or if you spend a long periods of time traveling.
- If you stand a lot, take sit-down breaks with your legs propped up.
- Wear compression stockings to help reduce leg swelling and encourage blood flow, especially if you sit or stand for long periods.