Venous Disease

(Leg Vein Problems)


Venous disease (leg vein problems), such as blood clots and weak or damaged veins, can interfere with the crucial role of veins in the cardiovascular system—to return blood to the heart and lungs, where it’s reloaded with the oxygen the body needs to function and stay healthy. Venous disease is a common chronic condition—in fact, it’s estimated that by the age of 50, 40% of women* and 20% of men* will have leg vein problems.1 If you don’t do something about these vein problems, they can hurt and interfere with your daily activities for the rest of your life.

For the blood to get to the heart from the legs, it must travel upwards against gravity. It does this with the help of the veins and the surrounding muscle. When we stand and walk, the muscles constrict, squeezing the veins and pushing the blood toward the heart through a system of valves. When we sit, or at rest, the muscles relax, and valves within the veins close to prevent blood from flowing back into the legs and feet. About 90 percent of our blood returns to the heart through the deep veins—veins that lie deep within the body. The other two types of veins are superficial and connecting. Superficial veins are the ones you can see through your skin. They carry blood from tissue closer to the surface of your skin to the deep veins, where the blood flows to the heart. Connecting veins carry blood from the superficial veins to the deep veins.

Several common vein problems can develop in the legs. Some are more serious than others, but all are worth discussing with your doctor.

Type of Vein Problem


Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI)

  • Venous reflux

  • High blood pressure in the vein (venous hypertension)

  • Varicose veins

  • Spider veins

CVI refers to damage or weakness in the vein wall or vein valve that allows blood to flow back down the vein (venous reflux). The backflow of blood accumulates in the veins and causes inflammation (phlebitis) and potentially clotting. Clotting can block or slow blood flow through the vein, raising blood pressure and possibly causing more damage. Varicose and spider veins are caused by the accumulation of blood from venous reflux.

Congenital vascular malformation (includes birthmarks)

This catchall term affects very few people (less than 1%) and refers to those born with defective veins. For example, the veins may not have valves. This category also includes birthmarks, a cluster of veins close to the skin.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

With DVT, blood clots form in the large veins deep within the legs, pelvis, and sometimes in the arms. As many as 900,000 people in the U.S. are affected by DVT each year.2


This condition refers to swelling in the deep or superficial veins.

Post-thrombotic syndrome (also known as post-phlebitic syndrome and venous stress disorder)

In this condition, the symptoms of pain, heaviness in the leg or foot, cramps, itching, tingling, bluish or brownish flaky skin, sores, and varicose veins caused by DVT continue after treatment, either because the blood clot is still there or the blood clot caused other damage to the vein.

Pulmonary embolism (PE)

This condition is when a blood clot breaks free from a deep vein and enters an artery in the lung. PE is a life-threatening condition that can cause heart failure, so it’s important to call 911 if you have trouble breathing or are coughing up blood as this may be PE. 


This condition causes swelling by a blood clot in the vein. It can occur in the superficial or deep veins.


This condition refers to a blood clot in the vein. Blood clots can block blood flow, break free, and travel through the bloodstream to the heart and lungs (see pulmonary embolism [PE] above).

Venous sores

When the pressure in the veins continues for a long time, it can break down healthy tissue, which causes ulcers or sores.

*The term “women” in the context of “women’s cardiovascular health” applies to individuals assigned female at birth (AFAB) who have a female biological reproductive system, which includes a vagina, uterus, ovaries, Fallopian tubes, accessory glands, and external genital organs.

*The term “men” in the context of “cardiovascular health” applies to individuals assigned male at birth (AMAB) who have a male biological reproductive system, which includes a penis, scrotum, testes, epididymis, vas deferens, prostate, and seminal vesicles.