Venous disease affects more than 25 million Americans, but is commonly overlooked

Contributing columnistMarch 7, 2014 

There is a prevailing misconception that vein diseases and their treatments are purely cosmetic. The reality is that venous reflux disease is a chronic medical condition that requires medical evaluation and treatment to relieve symptoms and prevent progression.

Venous disease is incredibly common, affecting more than 25 million Americans. It is five times more common than coronary artery disease. While it affects both sexes, women are four times more commonly affected than men. The risk of women developing venous reflux disease is approximately 1 percent per year after age 40 years.

Approximately one in four patients with venous reflux disease have lifestyle limiting lower leg symptoms. Symptoms can often be misattributed because they are often variable, but can include lower leg pain, swelling, heaviness, burning, itching or throbbing, typically increasing throughout the day.

Unfortunately, venous reflux is among the most overlooked vascular diseases in cardiovascular medicine. There is a lack of dedicated curriculum to educate physicians on venous diseases during medical school and postgraduate training process. All too often, patients suffer chronically for years from unpleasant or debilitating lower leg pain before they are referred to a vein specialist.

Venous reflux disease occurs when the valves in the vein, which allows blood to flow in one direction toward the heart, cannot close properly due to the weakening or enlargement of the vein. When blood flows in the opposite direction toward the foot, patients may experience painful and unpleasant symptoms. Eventually, chronic vein reflux disease can lead to painful varicose veins (not always present), chronic swelling, skin changes — like discoloration or inflammation, or even skin ulcers.

Vein ablation is an effective way to eliminate the symptoms of venous reflux disease. It's a safe, and minimally invasive outpatient procedure that uses heat energy to close the bad veins. The procedure generally takes between thirty minutes to an hour.

Following the procedure, patients are fitted with a compression dressing and encouraged to ambulate after a brief bed rest of 30 minutes. Symptom relief can be immediate within the first 48 hours and for the vast majority of patients durable for years.

If you think that you're experiencing symptoms of venous disease, check with your physician for a referral to a vein specialist who can work with you to develop a treatment plan.

Dr. Steve Lin is with KentuckyOne Health Cardiology Associates, part of KentuckyOne Health.

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