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Vein weakness is a disorder of the vein function, which is usually caused by difficult blood circulation, which mostly affects the leg veins. The technical term is venous insufficiency. Venous insufficiency is a "widespread disease". It occurs in different degrees of severity, develops slowly and is often recognized by those affected late.
What are veins?
In short, veins are all blood vessels that bring blood back to the heart. In contrast, arteries are the ones that transport the fresh blood from the heart to the parts of the body. The blood releases the oxygen and nutrients into the tissue, then it flows through tiny blood vessels, the capillaries, into the venules. These blood vessels are also still small and unite to form the larger veins. Smaller veins closer to the surface carry the blood in deep-lying veins with a large diameter.
The two largest veins are the lower and upper vena cava. These pump the blood to the heart without oxygen, the heart then pumps it into the lungs. There it fills with oxygen and flows back to the heart. The arteries then transport it to the organs.
When the venous valves fail
How can the blood flow towards the heart at all? The venous valves ensure this. These act like a valve. If they are closed, the blood cannot flow in the wrong direction.
Vein weakness begins when these venous valves weaken. They no longer close properly and it may happen that they no longer close. The blood now flows only partially upwards to the heart and instead accumulates on the upstream sections of the veins. Then the vein on the vein wall widens due to the pressure of the jammed blood. Such dilated veins manifest on the skin as small spider veins or as larger bluish varicose veins.
Risk: Chronic venous insufficiency
Advanced venous insufficiency can develop into chronic venous insufficiency, CVI for short. With chronic weakness, the skin changes and the tissue swells as strongly as painfully. With a CVI in the legs, walking is difficult and those affected are easily exhausted.
How does venous insufficiency develop?
Malfunction of the veins is tricky because it progresses slowly and causes no symptoms for a long time. Early complaints include leg pain, a feeling of heaviness or swelling, so-called "thick calves". But these symptoms are rather non-specific, they can also have many other triggers, for example overworked muscles.
So what are the symptoms of vein insufficiency? In addition to the swollen, tired and painful legs, the following complaints arise:
- Small, reddish-bluish vein patterns in the form of spider webs. Doctors call them spider veins.
- Clearly visible veins, especially on the calf, back of the knee and thighs.
- Varicose veins; while spider veins form in small veins, varicose veins are an expression of larger veins. These are clearly visible on the lower leg and calf - they bulge, thicken and "meander".
- The skin color changes to brownish in the area of the ankles, the skin dries out on the legs, scaly and itchy, eczema and / or open skin areas develop. This usually happens only when the weakness has become chronic.
Weak veins - risk factors
Venous insufficiency is often genetic. This is shown by the fact that often several people in a family suffer from it. Age also plays a role. Vein weakening rarely occurs before the age of 30. Women suffer significantly more often from weak veins and the visible spider veins and varicose veins than men. The structures of the female connective tissue also play a role here, as do the female sex hormones, especially the estrogen. The connective tissue of women is generally looser than that of men, which increases the risk of venous insufficiency. Especially pregnant women, in whom the estrogen level rises, often develop venous insufficiency. This is due to the fact that the belly of the pregnant woman presses on the pelvic veins and uses the leg veins.
Generally, being overweight is a risk factor for these symptoms. Thromboses in the veins previously suffered also promote venous weakness. If overweight and past blood clots occur, activities that involve long standing or sitting, the risk of venous insufficiency increases enormously.
A family doctor may suspect vein weakness, but you can safely diagnose phlebologists, i.e. specialists in vascular and vein diseases. It must first be clarified whether there have been cases of venous insufficiency in your family or whether you have had thrombosis in the past. Then the doctors look at the leg skin and look for swelling, skin changes, spider veins or varicose veins. Ultrasound images show whether venous valves are damaged. Doppler sonography shows how the blood flows in the vein, where the flow is disrupted and whether blood clots have formed.
There is no one treatment for venous insufficiency. Rather, different therapies are considered depending on how far the weakness has progressed. First of all, it is about supporting or restoring blood flow. This works with external aids, i.e. compression stockings or compressing bandages. The pressure that the vein itself can no longer exert now comes from the outside, and it prevents the blood from backing up.
If the vein symptoms have worsened, for example with water retention, draining drugs help. Eczema on the skin is treated with creams or ointments that moisturize and relieve inflammation. Spider veins are not a medical problem, but many people find them unsightly. They can easily be desolated - by injecting a chemical substance. This also works with superficial varicose veins. However, deep-seated varicose veins require surgery. The vein is removed and the blood is redirected to a healthy vein or the vessel is closed with a laser.
How can you prevent venous insufficiency?
If your weak veins are genetically engineered, the problems are difficult to prevent. After all, the course of the weakness can be slowed down by strengthening the connective tissue, the veins and the blood flow:
- Above all, it helps exercise. It doesn't have to be competitive sports, but hiking, swimming, cycling. Ride a bike to work instead of a car, climb stairs instead of standing in the elevator. Swimming is best, the cold water presses on the veins and also ensures that they cool down.
- Use foot exercises if you have to sit a lot at work or have a standing job. You move the tips of your feet alternately to the shin and the floor or let them circle, shift the weight from your heels to the tips of your feet. You can also clench your toes or "shake out" your foot.
- Eat low calories and reduce weight because excessive weight promotes and increases venous insufficiency.
- Avoid high heels, as nice as you find them, because they weaken the veins. Flip flops or sandals are ideal. The flatter, more open and more comfortable shoes are, the better.
- Especially in summer you should drink a lot if you have weak veins. This compensates for the loss of fluid due to sweating, because the more fluid the blood, the better it can flow.
Course and forecast
A beginning venous weakness can usually be stopped. If it progresses and varicose veins already form, the risk of secondary diseases such as venous thrombosis increases.
Compression stockings against thrombosis
Compression stockings even help with advanced venous insufficiency and reduce the risk of thrombosis. Medical compression stockings are now also antibacterial and breathable, so they can be used well on a hot summer day. The medical specialist retailer adjusts such stockings individually in the morning with swollen legs. They are available as knee highs, thigh highs or tights. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Amboss GmbH: Varicosis and chronic venous insufficiency (accessed: July 3, 2019), amboss.com
- Dr. med. Ive Schaaf: Chronic venous weakness (access: 03.07.2019), venen-hilfe.de
- Eberhardt, Robert T. / Raffetto, Joseph D .: Chronic Venous Insufficiency, Circulation, 2005, ahajournals.org
- Cleveland Clinic: Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI) (access: 03.07.2019), my.clevelandclinic.org
- Mayo Clinic: Varicose veins (accessed: 03.07.2019), mayoclinic.org
ICD codes for this disease: I87ICD codes are internationally valid encodings for medical diagnoses. You can find e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.