Veins 101

Veins 101

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How veins work

The veins of the lower extremities serve two basic functions.  They are a reservoir to hold extra blood and they act as a conduit to return blood from the legs to the heart and lungs.  There are three pathways of veins in the legs – a low-pressure superficial system (under the skin), a higher-pressure deep system (inside the musculature of the legs), and a communicating system, which connects the superficial and deep veins.  Veins are passive, thin-walled, distensible vessels that depend on a series of valves to prevent backflow and the transfer of high pressure to the superficial system.

When these valves fail, superficial veins can become enlarged and inflamed.  Poor venous function, or venous insufficiency, can occur in any of the three venous pathways.  Superficial venous insufficiency is the most common form of venous insufficiency.  It affects up to 25% of women, and 10% of men.  Venous insufficiency is associated with discomfort, including heaviness, leg fatigue, night cramps, and leg restlessness, as well as being cosmetically displeasing.  Untreated venous insufficiency can eventually lead to leg swelling, skin changes, spontaneous bleeding, and in some cases, ulceration of the skin, which is difficult to heal.
There are steps you can take to manage symptoms of venous insufficiency.  They include:

  • Exercise
  • Ankle flexion
  • Leg elevation
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Wearing compression stockings
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines

For more detailed information on these measures go here.
Form is in Adobe PDF format.