Spider vein is the common term for blue or purple-colored veins that occur under the skin but are close enough to be seen on the surface. Spider veins can cause physical discomfort, but because of their appearance, they can be a source of embarrassment and self-consciousness, especially during the summer season. Spider veins are an indication of early stage venous disease, and treating them not only can improve appearance but can help stop the progression of venous disease. The classification used by most physicians to describe venous disease is called the CEAP scale. The C stands for “clinical severity,” on this scale spider veins are C 1.
Expand Your Knowledge: In the past, treatment of spider veins and varicose veins has often been considered cosmetic. Today, we know that leaving venous issues untreated can eventually lead to larger health problems.
Varicose veins are visible veins in the leg that bulge, often protruding through the skin. They are the result of venous insufficiency: blood that pools in the vein because of a faulty valve and causes the protrusion. Varicose veins are a symptom of early stage venous disease. Untreated, they can lead to increased symptoms and worsening appearance. Varicose veins affect approximately half of the U.S. population, and in addition to causing pain and discomfort, those with varicose veins struggle unnecessarily with their appearance. They often limit social activity and experience a significantly change in their quality of life. On the above mentioned CEAP scale varicose veins are C 2.
Expand Your Knowledge: Often, those who have varicose veins are concerned that the vein will bleed. In fact, a bleeding varicose vein is a very real concern. If your vein bleeds, elevate and hold continuous pressure for at least 10 minutes. If you can not get the bleeding to stop, seek immediate medical help.
While symptoms of early stage venous disease are not always painful, it is common to experience discomfort as the disease progresses. This can manifest through fatigue or general discomfort that gets worse over the course of a day or after standing for long periods, and can often be relieved by elevating the legs. Some people with venous disorders have itchy skin or cramping in the legs, or legs that begin cramping after long periods of standing. Others experience restless leg syndrome, aching, or swelling. These symptoms can occur with or without the presence of visible veins, but are often accompanied by swelling.
Chronic swelling puts people at risk for cellulitis, a potentially serious bacterial skin infection that can affect the skin’s surface and its underlying tissue and cause the skin to become swollen and tender. Those with venous symptoms can also be at increased risk for phlebitis. These are clots within the superficial veins that can be extremely painful and often require weeks of inactivity while the leg heals. Swelling in the CEAP classification translates to C 3.
Expand Your Knowledge: Those experiencing restless leg syndrome may be experiencing a symptom of venous insufficiency. When restless leg occurs in conjunction with vein disorders, vein treatment can cause relief of symptoms and eliminate the need for medication.
Skin changes can occur during many stages of venous disease. Swelling may occur around the leg, ankles, or around the knees. Brown discoloration that appears as a stain on the skin is a sign of an advanced stage of venous disease. This occurs as a result of blood leaking from the blood vessels and into the skin tissue. This staining can lead to white spots and are a precursor to an ulcer.
Other skin changes include lipodermosclerosis, a disease that causes the skin to thicken, and eczema, which causes the skin to become red or scaly. The changes in the skin are classified as C 4 on the CEAP scale.
Venous stasis ulcers in the leg are often an indication that venous disease has reached an advanced stage. Because venous disease is progressive, venous reflux can often lead to additional valve failure. As a result, the pooling of blood can affect a larger area. When blood pools in the lower leg over a long period of time, the condition is referred to as venous stasis.
When blood leaks into the tissue of the skin, it can cause swelling and damage to the tissue. Tissue damage can result in wounds, or ulcers, that are chronic and do not heal if the condition is left untreated. Ulcers may be painful or itchy and often require constant care and dressing. Because ulcers typically do not heal on their own, they can have a significant impact on quality of life. Those legs are classified as C 5 when there is a healed ulcer or C6 if there is an open ulcer.
Often, because of a poor understanding of options for treatment, people can be plagued with ulcers for years, assuming there is no alternative. While treating the source of venous disorders early can prevent ulcers, those who are already experiencing this late-stage symptom can have excellent success with treatment. In many cases, people with ulcers are able to enjoy complete healing and recovery.