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Aching Legs? It Could Be a Deeper Problem

August 13, 2019

Have you ever felt the need to “put your feet up” at the end of a long day? Elevating your feet provides physical relief when your legs are tired, but have you ever considered why?

When you have healthy and functioning veins, the veins work to keep blood flowing from your extremities back to your heart. These veins have valves that ensure that blood doesn’t move with gravity and only continuously flow downward, but instead, cycles back toward the heart.

Sometimes, however, these valves can leak, leading to swelling, aching, discoloration and inflammation.

Spider veins vs. varicose veins

According to Niranjan Reddy, MD, a cardiologist with Kettering Physician Network Heart & Vascular, varicose veins are “very prevalent but very underdiagnosed and undertreated.”

The terms “spider veins” and “varicose veins” are sometimes thought to be interchangeable. However, they do have differences. “They are the same problem of venous insufficiency, but at different points along the spectrum,” explains Dr. Reddy.

Smaller, bluish-green veins that can easily be seen are called spider veins and are usually a cosmetic issue. Varicose veins are typically larger, more swollen, bulge from the surface of the skin and can lead to more serious problems if left untreated.

What to expect

Prasanth Lingam, MD, a cardiologist with Kettering Physician Network Heart & Vascular, says treatment for these vein issues involves lifestyle changes or simple outpatient procedures that “can often be done over a lunch break.”

If you are experiencing symptoms indicative of varicose veins—inflammation, pain, swelling and discoloration—a doctor will order an ultrasound, which shows if blood is refluxing or leaking. When varicose veins go undiagnosed, the discomfort and swelling you experience can lead to skin breakdowns, ulcers or infections.

Risk factors

Varicose veins are more common in women than men. The most common risk factors for varicose veins include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Multiple pregnancies
  • Genetics
  • Being overweight
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Menopause
  • High-heeled footwear
  • Standing for prolonged periods

Those who are in professions where they are on their feet for long periods of time are at a higher risk for developing varicose veins, Dr. Reddy says.

Family history is an important factor as well. “Those who have one parent with varicose veins have a 40 percent chance of developing the problem,” Dr. Reddy says. “When someone has two parents with varicose veins, the risk increases to 70 percent.”

What you can do

Dr. Lingam’s biggest recommendation for prevention is to wear compression socks. Compression socks are not the same as medical grade compression stockings, however, they can delay the onset of varicose veins if you’re dealing with a number of risk factors.

A lifestyle that incorporates regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight is also important for reducing risk factors.

Get care

Looking for cardiac care? Visit our Heart & Vascular page to find out how we can help.