Do You Have Undiagnosed Vein Disease? Find Out

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Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) happens when the valves in your legs don’t allow normal blood flow back up to your heart. Also known as vein disease, CVI causes blood to pool in the legs, leading to pain, swelling, varicose veins, and skin color and texture changes. If left untreated, leg ulcers can form.

Those with CVI also have a higher risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a severe medical condition that can sometimes lead to death.

Despite being a very common condition, healthcare professionals often underdiagnosed or undiagnosed vein disease. Worse still, the uncomfortable or unsightly symptoms are sometimes overlooked by the people who suffer from the warning signs.

In the United States, there are about 300,000 new cases (of chronic venous insufficiency) every year. Up to 40 percent of adults have some sort of venous insufficiency or varicose veins, and they choose to live with it. – Dr. Philip Chaipis, lead physician, Center for Vein Restoration

We spoke to Center for Vein Restoration vein physician Philip Chaipis, MD, FACS, about vein disease, its pervasiveness among adults, and why he thinks it is so often ignored by the healthcare profession and those who experience symptoms. Dr. Chaipis is the lead physician at the Center for Vein Restoration (CVR) clinic in Columbia, South Carolina.

What is Chronic Venous Insufficiency?

Dr. Chaipis describes chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) as “a syndrome; a constellation of multiple problems that come together including high blood pressure in the veins that lead to dilated veins and or dysfunctional valves.” These problem veins cause symptoms such as swelling, achiness, feelings of leg heaviness, and restless legs at night.

Not every person with CVI will have all these symptoms, and every person’s experience of CVI is different, clarifies Dr. Chaipis.

Does vein disease develop quickly or over time?

“Chronic venous insufficiency mostly develops slowly and insidiously,” describes Dr. Chaipis. Because of the gradual way vein disease progresses, “people are unaware of the changes and come to accept the symptoms they live with.” Unfortunately, there’s a misconception that the symptoms of vein disease such as achiness, swelling, and dilated veins are a normal part of aging.

Vein disease is not a normal part of aging.

Over time, Dr. Chaipis warns, CVI can progress and get so severe that skin changes develop, which leads to infection and ulceration” and is very painful.”

The exception to this is blood clots, which can come on rapidly and move into venous insufficiency that is late-stage and chronic, he adds.

Why does vein disease go undiagnosed or undiagnosed?

Chronic venous insufficiency is prevalent worldwide, but especially in Western countries, says Dr. Chaipis. Despite the prevalence of the disorder, he believes that one reason that CVI is underdiagnosed is that people incorrectly believe the symptoms are a normal part of life.

Vein disease is not a normal part of life.

Another reason that vein disease is underappreciated is that “the symptoms are less dramatic as heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, or diabetes,” says Dr. Chaipis. Therefore, many people, including those in the medical profession, tend to dismiss vein disease because the progressive symptoms are less attention-grabbing.

Does a healthcare professional have to have special training to spot vein disease?

Smiling, Dr. Chaipis refers to this as a “trick question” and says that “while it helps to have specialty training in vein disease, it doesn’t have to be exhaustive. Awareness is the key.”

Medical professionals need to only recognize the tell-tale symptoms as an indicator of venous insufficiency to refer the case to a vein physician. These warning signs include leg heaviness, restless leg, swelling, skin changes, varicose veins, spider veins, and feelings of burning and itching. A vein specialist will consult with the patient and perform an ultrasound to diagnose CVI formally.

Can I diagnose myself with vein disease?

While an individual can strongly suspect that they have vein disease “and often be right,” CVI can only be determined with a “formal and comprehensive evaluation using ultrasound,” says Dr. Chaipis. Because other medical conditions can overlap and be confused with CVI, he urges anyone who thinks they might have vein disease to consult with a vein physician for diagnosis and treatment if recommended.

What are the consequences of undiagnosed vein disease?

Undiagnosed chronic venous insufficiency “is insidious and steals quality of life,” says Dr. Chaipis. People suffering from symptoms stop participating in life as they once did; “they stop going out, they don’t wear the clothes they want to wear, and they look and feel poorly, and they just live with it,” he laments.

But this is only the beginning of the costs of undiagnosed CVI.

As the disease progresses, chronic venous insufficiency puts a person at high risk of blood clots, which can be life-threatening. Over time, skin changes give the legs a “leathery” appearance. The skin becomes prone to infection, is painful, and breaks down, leading to ulcerations.

He adds that skin breakdown can cause veins to bleed quite dramatically for those with varicose veins.

What should I do if I think I have vein disease, but my general practitioner doesn’t recognize the symptoms?

“If your healthcare professional is not picking up on the symptoms and you want an evaluation, Center for Vein Restoration is happy to see you,” says Dr. Chaipis. CVR offers free evaluations and comprehensive consultations with a vein physician that includes an extensive and painless ultrasound screening.

Most insurances cover diagnosis and treatment because CVI can lead to serious and expensive medical conditions.

“If you’re suspicious and concerned, please call, and make an appointment. We will accommodate you in any way possible – Dr. Philip Chaipis

How do I schedule an evaluation with a vein physician?

“We help people look better and feel better every day. It is worth it to call your local professional or CVR provider and at least get a screening and see what can be done to help.” – Dr. Philip Chaipis

With more than 100 locations nationwide, the chances are that there is a Center for Vein Restoration location near you. Call 1-800-FIX-LEGS to speak to a Patient Services Representative or easily schedule online.