What is Vein Disease? 12 Symptoms You Need to Know About

In this comprehensive guide, we explore what vein disease is and highlight 12 crucial symptoms that you need to know about. From leg pain and swelling to visible veins and skin discoloration, understanding these warning signs will help you take proactive steps towards managing your vascular health.
Dr. Samir Damani
October 31, 2023

Key takeaways

  • It's important to understand the symptoms of vein disease, which can affect your overall health.
  • Recognizing these symptoms can help you seek timely medical advice and prevent complications.
  • By being proactive and seeking appropriate care, you can take control of your vein health and improve your quality of life.

What is vein disease?

Vein disease, also known as venous insufficiency, affects millions of people worldwide. It occurs when blood vessels in the legs have difficulty transporting blood efficiently. When your veins and arteries cannot easily send blood back to the heart from your limbs, a condition develops known as chronic venous insufficiency. When you are experiencing venous insufficiency, the blood that flows backward begins to pool in the veins of your legs.

Causes of vein disease

In healthy veins, blood flows continuously and unobstructed from the limbs to the heart. The one-way valves operate efficiently to prevent the back-flow of blood. In most cases, vein disease is caused by varicose veins or blood clots. Women are more likely to develop vein disease; however, additional factors may increase your chances of developing the condition.

Other risk factors vein disease

A pregnant woman who has vein disease in her thighs

Below is a list of factors that may increase the chances of developing vein disease.  Knowing your risks is an essential step to identifying early symptoms.

  • Family history of a vein or heart disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Age
  • Smoking
  • Leg Injury or trauma
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Blood clots
  • Varicose veins
  • Obesity
  • Prior stroke
  • Cancer
  • Sitting or standing for long periods without moving or stretching
  • Heavy lifting

What are the symptoms of vein disease?

"While the early stages of vein disease may often present with little to no symptoms, they can become dangerous if not addressed."

Now that you know what vein disease is, it's important to be aware of the symptoms. Many people experience no symptoms until the disease has progressed significantly. So if you're concerned about your health, it's important to be vigilant about any changes in your body. The following are the 12 most common symptoms of vein disease you need to know:

1. Swelling in the Legs

A swelling leg caused by vein disease

When the valves are not functioning correctly, blood flows backward, and pools in the lower legs and ankles. When this happens, the pressure is created inside the veins, which eventually allows blood to leak into surrounding tissues. A build-up of blood, fluids, and proteins creates swelling in the legs and ankles, also known as edema.

2. Itchy legs

When poor circulation in the legs is at play, people may begin to experience itching, burning, or numbness in their legs. This may be the result of inflammation and a loss of oxygen being delivered through the veins to the skin’s surface. It may also be caused by a condition known as stasis dermatitis.

3. Weak leg muscles

A man who feels weak leg muscles

If you find that your leg muscles are feeling weaker than usual, it could be due to vein disease. When the veins are not able to circulate blood properly, the muscles can become weak and tired. This is often worse after physical activity.

4. Aching or throbbing legs

This is often caused by the blood pooling in the veins and putting pressure on the surrounding tissues. You may notice that the pain is worse at the end of the day when you've been standing or sitting for long periods of time.

5. Varicose veins

Illustration of normal veins with veins that have varicose veins

Often seen just under the skin’s surface, varicose veins usually appear as thick, twisted, ropey, bulging and swollen veins. In bulging veins, the faulty valves have allowed blood to flow backward and pool in the veins of your legs. As a result, the veins stretch and become weaker, losing their elasticity, allowing for more blood to pool.

6. Leg cramping

When varicose veins are becoming more pronounced, leg cramping may be a more frequent symptom:

  • Burning, throbbing, muscle cramping and swelling in lower legs
  • Pain that increases with prolonged sitting or standing
  • Itching around veins
  • Achiness or heaviness in legs
  • Skin discoloration around veins

7. Restless legs syndrome

Often, venous insufficiency may create a feeling of restlessness or need to move the legs. Also, legs may feel heavy and fatigued as a result of poor circulation. Temporary relief may be found in elevating your legs and shifting positions and moving your legs until symptoms subside.

8. Pain that gets worse when you stand but improves when you raise your leg

This is because the blood is not able to flow properly when you're standing and gravity pulls it down. However, when you raise your leg, it takes the pressure off the veins and allows the blood to flow more freely.

9. Blood clots (Deep Vein Thrombosis)

Blood clots arise when parts of blood thicken and form a gel-like mass. Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is when a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins inside your body, usually in the legs. Swelling and pain are the most noticeable symptoms; however, some people have no symptoms at all.

DVTs can occur when you have been sitting for prolonged periods or confined to a bed. It is essential to move and stretch your body often to help promote blood circulation.

10. Skin Discoloration

Discoloration of the leg, ankle, or foot is often a sign of diseased or damaged veins which are not allowing the blood to return from the leg to the heart efficiently. The result is blood that pools in the legs that can cause skin discoloration of the lower leg called Hemosiderin Deposits.

Hemosiderin is a brownish pigment that is the result of brown down hemoglobin. The discoloration may look brownish or purple. Without proper treatment, more severe health problems may arise, such as leg ulcers or blood clots.

11. Spider veins

A leg that has spider veins

Spider veins are small, wisp-like veins that are often blue, red or purple, and appear just underneath the surface of the skin. They most often appear on the legs, but can also appear on the face. Unfortunately, spider veins affect up to 60% of Americans as they age; however, certain factors increase your chances of developing them:

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Menopause
  • Prior trauma or injury
  • Family history

12. Fatigue

As venous insufficiency progresses, people begin to notice sensations of tired, heavy, and fatigued legs towards the end of the day or if they have been standing for prolonged periods. These sensations are rooted in the build-up of blood that is not correctly being returned to the heart, causing pressure in the veins and surrounding tissues.

How is vein disease diagnosed?

A leg undergoing venous ultrasound treatment

For many people, vein disease may not be visible to the naked eye, which is why consulting with a medical professional is so important. A skilled vein doctor can put together a treatment plan based on both a physical examination and a complete medical history reviewing your symptoms, family history, and lifestyle factors.

Leg ultrasound La Jolla, however, is the only definitive way to diagnose vein disease. Ultrasound allows the technician to look inside your leg veins to determine whether they are functioning correctly and to help pinpoint the root of the problem. Imaging tests may include a venogram or a duplex ultrasound.

What is a venogram?

Your doctor will use intravenous (IV) contrast dye into your veins, which will cause your blood vessels to appear opaque on the x-ray image. The dye will assist your doctor in seeing a clear picture of your blood vessels.

What is a duplex ultrasound?

A duplex ultrasound tests the speed and direction of the blood flow in your veins. An ultrasound technician will apply a warm gel on your skin and press a hand-held device called a transducer or small microphone against the skin. The transducer uses sound waves that will produce images of blood flow for the technician to review.

How is vein disease treated?

There are a variety of treatment options for vein disease, depending on the severity of your condition. Treatment may include lifestyle changes, medications, or surgery.

Lifestyle changes

A woman who has vein disease in her thighs wants to use compression stockings

If you have vein disease, there are a few lifestyle changes that you can make to help improve your symptoms. These include:

  • Wearing compression stockings
  • Exercising regularly
  • Losing weight
  • Avoiding long periods of standing or sitting
  • Elevating your legs when you're resting

Medical treatments

A leg with venous disease that will receive medical treatments

If lifestyle changes don't provide enough relief, your doctor may prescribe medical treatments. These include:

  • Radiofrequency ablation: A medical procedure that uses high-frequency waves to heat and shrinks the vein, ultimately reducing the appearance and increasing blood flow to nearby, healthy veins.
  • VenaSeal closure system: VenaSeal uses advanced medical adhesive to effectively and safely close a diseased vein segment.
  • Sclerotherapy: A nonsurgical treatment often used to eliminate unsightly spider veins.  
  • Endovenous laser ablation: A minimally invasive and safe treatment that uses targeted laser therapy to fix varicose veins.
  • Vari-lite: This procedure targets facial spider veins by using a focused beam of light that safely penetrates the skin to destroy unsightly blood vessels.
  • Ambulatory phlebectomy: The appropriate treatment for enlarged bulging veins that are close to the skin’s surface.

Is treatment covered by insurance?

Since vein disease is a diagnosed medical condition, most insurance plans cover treatment, and the clinical tests needed to help diagnose or rule out any underlying conditions or illnesses. Keep in mind, insurance companies may require up to 3 months of conservative therapies to show little to no improvement of symptoms before approval for treatment.

Examples of conservative therapies may include:

  • Leg elevation
  • Compression stockings
  • Exercise
  • The use of anti-inflammatories

Additionally, treatment to improve the appearance of smaller vein disorders, such as spider veins, are considered non-symptomatic of medically necessary treatment and are typically not covered by insurance.  These procedures are deemed to be “cosmetic” in nature and will not be treated if they are not accompanied symptoms causing you pain or discomfort.

Speak with your insurance provider today before seeking treatment.  Often, your vascular surgeon will work with you to determine what symptoms may qualify as “medically necessary treatment” and will work with your insurance provider to obtain coverage.


Understanding the symptoms of vein disease is crucial for your overall health and well-being. By being aware of the signs, you can seek timely medical intervention and prevent further complications.

Schedule a consultation with iThriveVeins to receive personalized care and guidance. Our experienced team will provide you with the expertise and support you need to effectively address your vein disease.

The bottom line


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