How the Venous System Works: Vein Disorders & Venous Insufficiency
Veins contain the blood in the human body and the venous system’s sole function is to return blood to the heart. Because the venous system is a low-pressure system, and much of the blood returning to the heart has to work against gravity, veins in the limbs contain valves that ensure that blood flows in only one direction in the veins – toward the heart.
Incompetent Valves & Venous Reflux
When the valves in the veins fail to work properly, blood flows back down toward the feet, causing what we call reflux. Reflux most often occurs because of stretching of the vein around the valve – veins stretch much more efficiently than arteries to allow the body to adapt to changes in the volume of blood. This separates the edges of the valves inside the veins, so they no longer close tightly. Without treatment, the malfunctioning valves allow the blood to pool in the lower legs. Pooling of blood in the veins of the legs is what causes visibly bulging varicose veins, as well as many symptoms.
Chronic aching, pain, pressure, heaviness or fatigue of the legs, ankles, or feet
Foot or leg swelling
Restlessness of the legs, especially when at rest
Visible varicose veins
Ulcers, or open wounds that are slow to heal, on the legs or ankles
Skin changes on the legs and ankles, such as redness, brown spots, and/or a thickening and hardening of the skin on the legs and ankles
It is important to note that one can have Venous Insufficiency without having visible bulging varicosities. Often the varicosities are under the surface of the skin where they cannot be seen, but will still cause symptoms in the legs and ankles.