VEINS, DISEASES OF
Veins are the blood vessels that convey blood back from the tissues towards the heart. Two common conditions that a?ect them are THROMBOSIS and varicosities (see below).
Varicose veins are dilated tortuous veins occurring in about 15 per cent of adults – women more than men. They most commonly occur in the legs but may also occur in the anal canal (HAEMORRHOIDS) and in the oesophagus (due to liver disease).
Normally blood ?ows from the subcutaneous tissues to the super?cial veins which drain via perforating veins into the deep veins of the leg. This ?ow, back towards the heart, is aided by valves within the veins. When these valves fail, increased pressure is exerted on the blood vessels leading to dilatations known as varicose veins.
Treatment is needed to prevent complications such as ulceration and bleeding, or for
cosmetic purposes. Treatment alternatives include injection with sclerosing agents to obliterate the lumen of the veins (sclerotherapy), or surgery; in the elderly or un?t, an elastic stocking may su?ce. One operation is the Trendelenburg operation in which the saphenous vein is disconnected from the femoral vein and individual varicose veins are avulsed. (See also VASCULITIS.)
Thrombosis Thrombosis occurs when blood, which is normally a liquid, clots within the vein to form a semisolid thrombus (clot). This occurs through a combination of reduced blood ?ow and hypercoagulability (a reduced threshold for clotting). The most common site for this to occur is in the deep veins of the leg, where it is known as a deep-vein thrombosis (DVT).
Predisposing factors include immobility (leading to reduced blood ?ow), such as during long journeys (e.g. plane ?ights) where there is little opportunity to stretch one’s legs; surgery (leading to temporary post-operative immobility and hypercoagulability of blood); oestrogen administration (low-dose oestrogen oral contraceptives carry a very low relative risk); and several medical illnesses such as heart failure, stroke and malignancy.
Deep-vein thrombosis presents as a tender, warm, red swelling of the calf. Diagnosis may be con?rmed by venogram (an X-ray taken following injection of contrast medium into the foot veins) or by ultrasound scanning looking for ?ow within the veins.
Prevention is important. This is why patients are mobilised and/or given leg exercises very soon after an operation, even major surgery. People should avoid sitting for long periods, particularly if the edge of the seat is hard, thus impeding venous return from the legs. Car drivers should stop regularly on a long journey and walk around; airline travellers should, where possible, walk round the aisle(s) and also exercise and massage their leg muscles, as well as drinking ample non-alcoholic ?uids.
Diagnosis and treatment are important because there is a risk that the clotted blood within the vein becomes dislodged and travels up the venous system to become lodged in the pulmonary arteries. This is known as PULMONARY EMBOLISM.
Treatment is directed at thinning the blood with ANTICOAGULANTS, initially with heparin and subsequently with WARFARIN for a period of time while the clot resolves.
Blocked super?cial veins are described as super?cial thrombophlebitis, which produces in?ammation over the vein. It responds to antiin?ammatory analgesics. Occasionally heparin and ANTIBIOTICS are required to treat associated thrombosis and infection.