Veins are blood vessels that carry blood low in oxygen back to the heart. Some veins are superficial, lying just under the surface of the skin and are sometimes visible. Other veins lie much deeper and cannot be seen on the surface. As with any part of the body, the veins can become injured or diseased in various ways leading to symptoms like pain.
What is vein pain?
Vein pain is where there is pain emanating from the vein, specifically the vein wall. There are pain receptors in the vein walls which can be triggered for many of the same reasons as pain receptors elsewhere in the body. It is usually difficult to identify vein pain in deeper lying veins that are not visible on the surface but when superficial veins are painful, it is easily identified as pressure on the vein can aggravate pain.
Since pain is a symptom, painful veins may occur with a number of different conditions. The type of pain can also vary. Sometimes it may be mild discomfort or feel like an ache whereas at other times the pain can be excruciating. Similarly the pain may only be evident when pressure is applied on the area (tenderness), or with movement while in other instances it may be persistent.
Causes of Painful Veins
There are several different causes of vein pain. Some of these causes can be very serious and even deadly. The presence of other symptoms may help in indicating the possible cause of painful veins. The veins can be injured, infected or inflamed due to autoimmune diseases just like any other part of the body. However, the conditions below are the more common causes of painful veins, especially in the legs.
Varicose veins is a relatively common condition where superficial veins, especially in the lower leg, become enlarged. It is often seen in people who stand for long periods of time. The increased pressure within the veins gradually causes it to dilate abnormally till the valves in the veins cannot prevent the back flow of blood. Being female, advancing age, family history of varicose veins and obesity are some of the risk factors.
The veins appear dark purple in color and may sometimes even look blue. There is usually an aching feeling in the legs which tends to worsen with long periods of standing and sitting. It may also be a burning or cramping sensation. Other symptoms include itching and in severe cases even skin ulcers may occur.
Conservative measures like compression stockings and lifestyle changes are the first step in treatment. When this fails, surgery to destroy and remove the affected veins then becomes necessary.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious condition where a blood clot (thrombus) forms in the deeper vein of the leg. It can cause a host of leg symptoms but the greater danger lies in the possible dislodging of this clot. It can then travel to the heart and block another vein along the way, like the veins to the lungs leading to a potentially deadly condition known as pulmonary embolism. Many people experience DVT pain as a deep pain in the lower leg.
It is possible for deep vein thrombosis to occur without any symptoms. This makes it even more deadly as treatment is not sought since a person is not aware of the condition. However, in most instances there is pain usually in the calf and swelling of the leg. The severity can vary.
Medication is usually prescribed which can break the clot and thin the blood. When this medication is contraindicated then a filter may be inserted into one of the larger veins to block it from reaching the lungs. Due to the seriousness of the complications, DVT must always be assessed by a medical professional when it is suspected.
Thrombophlebitis is where a blood clot forms in the leg veins and causes it to become inflamed. When it affects the deeper veins, it is know as deep vein thrombosis (discussed above). For more surface veins, it is known as superficial thrombophlebitis and is more commonly seen in people with varicose veins. Thrombophlebitis may occur with long periods of inactivity like sitting, blood-clotting disorders and an injury to the vein.
The signs and symptoms of deep thrombophlebitis has been discussed under deep vein thrombosis. With thrombophlebitis, it is usually not asymptomatic. With superficial thrombophlebitis, there is typical inflammatory symptoms such as redness, swelling and heat over the affected area.
The treatment of thrombophlebitis varies depending on whether it is superficial or deep thrombophlebitis. It may include drugs like blood thinner, clot busters, conservative measures like compression stockings or surgery like vein stripping.
Any condition that impairs blood flow through a vein is referred to as venous insufficiency. This is a broad term. Venous insufficiency is common in the legs although it could occur anywhere in the body, especially in veins farther away from the heart. Varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis are two common types of chronic venous insufficiency. The venous blood pools in the legs and causes a host of symptoms including vein pain.
Cellulitis is an infection of the tissue just underneath the skin. The infection can spread to the blood vessels like the veins (phlebitis). It is mainly due to bacteria that enter the body from a break in the skin. The legs are also a commonly affected site especially when there are conditions like diabetes present, which impairs the immune defenses that would normally fight the bacteria.
Redness, swelling, heat of the affected area and tenderness are typical symptoms seen in cellulitis. There may also be other skin symptoms like blisters. A fever can also occur especially as the condition progresses. As the infection progresses there may be red streaks as the veins and lymphatic vessels become infected.
Antibiotics are necessary. For milder cases oral antibiotics may be sufficient and a 10 to 14 day course is often prescribed. In other cases intravenous (IV) antibiotics may be needed.