Venous disease: subtle symptoms can lead to a lot of pain

Kathie, of Monroe, CT, has been a nurse all her life, and as the demands of her job increased so did the pain in her legs.

“I knew I had hereditary varicose veins but it just kept getting worse and worse.”

And she was not alone. According to the American College of Phlebology, it is estimated that more than 80 million Americans suffer from some form of venous disease, but most only seek treatment when the disease worsens.

“Symptoms are very subtle and begin an early age, so people are much more inclined to live with them,” said Dr. Alex Afshar, a board-certified family practice physician who is the Medical Director and President of The Vein Institute of Connecticut in Newtown, and an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of venous disease.

But what is venous disease?

“In a nutshell, it is a blood flow issue,” Afshar explains.

In normal circulation, arteries carry blood from the heart to the body, and veins return the blood to the heart. Veins have one-way valves, and when the valve opens, blood flows against gravity toward the heart. When the valve closes, blood is prevented from flowing backward.

“The problem occurs when the valves don’t close properly and the blood begins to flow back down the leg, towards gravity. The reverse blood flow causes pooling and vein-wall weakening.”

Although 70 percent of patients who seek treatment are women, since pregnancy puts them at a higher risk of the disease, it occurs almost as often in men as in women.

Symptoms of venous disease include aching throbbing, pain, heaviness and swelling, as well as night cramps, burning and itching. People may also experience numbness, weakness, and paresthesias — a feeling of “pins and needles” in the leg.

“If your legs get tired at the end of the day, [and] you elevate them on a coffee table and they feel better, that may be a sign. Everyone gets tired, but elevating your legs and immediately feeling relief could be venous congestion or blood pooling in your legs.”

For the past three years, the Vein Institute has been treating venous disease with three different procedures: endovenous laser ablation, foam sclerotherapy and ambulatory phlebectomy.

All are nonsurgical, one-hour, in-office procedures performed under local anesthesia. They were introduced in Europe and were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2002.

Most insurance companies, including Medicare, do cover medically necessary vein treatments. For those who do not have insurance, the Vein Institute offers cash discounts and an 18-month interest free financing option.

“Our goal is to make vein treatments as accessible as possible for anyone who needs them,” said Cassie Costa, Vein Institute of Connecticut Coordinator.

And according to Kathie, her treatment at the Vein Institute was life changing.

“The significant pain in my legs is completely gone. I will be able to proudly wear a pair of shorts this summer,” she said, adding, “There was a great deal of patient education; the patient care aspect of it was outstanding. I can

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