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How Your Heart Health Impacts Your Leg Veins

By Colin Doyle, APRN

Vein issues do not affect your heart health, but it’s important to recognize that a heart condition may make vein problems worse. If you suffer from a heart problem, you need to find out why your leg veins may be at risk for getting much worse.

February has been declared national heart health awareness month, providing an opportunity to discuss questions regarding cardiovascular disease and heart health. With this in mind, individuals diagnosed with vein disease are often concerned about possible cardiac implications. This concern stems from the condition's pathology, which involves the breakdown of valves and the dilation of blood vessels, both of which reduce blood flow back to the heart and cause a pooling of blood in the lower extremities.

Does venous insufficiency damage the valves in my heart?

With venous insufficiency, the stress placed upon valves of veins is a result of gravitational pressure. Gravitational pressure is essentially neutral at the diaphragm (a large muscular partition at the base of the lungs). This pressure increases from that point to the foot. Luckily, the heart is just above the diaphragm, so gravity places no pressure on its valves.

Does the pooling of blood in the legs damage the heart?

Venous insufficiency is a chronic condition and the pooling of blood can result in increased pressure in the veins of the legs. This can cause discomfort that is often described as an ache, heavy pressure or cramping. The pressure can also cause the veins in the legs to bulge. Fluid that should be in the veins can leak into the surrounding tissue where it can cause swelling, color variations and texture changes in the skin, and eventually even skin breakdown. The condition is chronic and occurs over time. The body accommodates for pooling of blood and plasma in the legs.

So, to sum up, venous insufficiency doesn't affect the heart or cause heart problems to progress.

On the other hand, existing heart problems, especially congestive heart failure, can make vein problems in the legs much worse depending on the degree of the heart issue. A heart that isn't squeezing effectively can cause massive back pressure in the veins of the legs to the extent that fluid is pushed across the vein walls into the tissue, resulting in massive swelling of the legs.

This cardiac condition can be treated in several ways. All of these treatments need to be carefully supervised to ensure that further problems don't arise and the patient’s ease of breather has been monitored. This is best done by a cardiologist. While the cardiologist is the person to follow heart functions and pumping efficiency, a vascular or general surgeon specializing in venous therapy is the best person to monitor leg therapy with compression and treatment of the underlying venous disorder.

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