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Peripheral venous disease is a general term that means damage or blockages in the veins, which bring blood from the rest of your body back to your heart. In normal veins, the blood flows in one direction only: back to your heart. However, if the valves in the veins weaken or get damaged, this can impact the flow of blood. Instead of flowing back towards the heart, since the valves no longer work correctly, the blood is at the mercy of gravity and can instead flow backwards and pool in the veins. When blood starts to flow backwards, this is called “venous reflux.” In turn, the veins start to swell with the extra fluid, and blood pressure in the veins starts to increase. This process puts extra strain on the veins in the legs. Peripheral venous disease includes different conditions like chronic venous insufficiency, varicose veins, and deep vein thrombosis. Symptoms may include ulcers, non-healing sores on the legs or feet, a heavy feeling or pain in your legs, leg or ankle pain, aching, cramping, and skin rashes. Risk factors include family history, older age, pregnancy, obesity, and a job that requires you to be on your feet all day.
WHAT ARE VENOUS LEG ULCERS?
Venous leg ulcers are a common symptom and complication of peripheral venous disease, and occur in about 1% of the American population.
They are also known as “varicose ulcers” or “stasis ulcers.” It is important to know that not all ulcers are venous or due to peripheral venous disease: up to 20% of people with leg ulcers may actually have a problem with their arteries and not necessarily their veins. Therefore, it is very important to work with your doctor to find out what is causing your leg ulcer and to get it treated. In order to best help you, your doctor will do a physical exam and may have you undergo tests to see how well your blood is flowing.
WHAT TREATMENT OPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE?
There are treatments available for leg ulcers, including elevating your leg, and using compression stockings or wrappings: both of these treatments help to reduce the blood pressure in the legs, which is often the root cause of the ulcers.
Special wound nurses or even surgeons may work with you. It can take months for venous leg ulcers to heal.
You can also do things at home to promote good vein health. Staying active with activities like walking or swimming can help reduce pressure in the legs: even flexing your calf muscles and changing positions can help to do this. Losing weight, and making sure you don’t cross your legs when you sit can also help to take pressure off the legs. Choosing low-heeled shoes and avoiding tight hosiery can also help. Staying out of the heat, and avoiding hot baths, can also help reduce vein dilation in the legs. Lastly, reducing the amount of salt in your diet makes your body retain less water, which can also reduce pressure in the legs and help you to avoid venous ulcers.