• Types of Leg Vein Problems


    When was the last time you thought about your veins? Maybe when you gave blood? And yet they are an integral part of the vascular system that keeps us alive—day in and day out—whether we think about it or not. Veins are the blood vessels that carry blood back to the heart and into the lungs to be replenished with the oxygen and nutrients the body needs to function and stay healthy.

    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 muscle that surrounds them. 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 by way of 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.

    Unfortunately, our veins can also develop problems. The following chart lists and describes the most common vein problems that can develop in the legs. Some are more serious than others, but all are worth discussing with your doctor.

    Type of Vein Problem



    A blood clot in the vein. Blood clots can block blood flow or break free and travel through the blood stream to the heart and lungs (pulmonary embolism).


    Swelling caused by a blood clot in the vein. It can occur in the superficial or deep veins.

    Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

    With DVT, blood clots form in the large veins deep within the legs, pelvis, and sometimes in the arms. DVT strikes about 1 in 20 people over the course of a lifetime.

    Pulmonary Embolism (PE)

    When a blood clot breaks free from a deep vein and makes its way into an artery in the lung, it is called a pulmonary embolism (PE). PE is life-threatening condition that can cause heart failure. It is important to call 911 if you have trouble breathing or if you are coughing up blood.

    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.

    Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI)

    • venous reflux
    • high blood pressure in the vein (venous hypertension)
    • varicose veins
    • spider veins


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


    Swelling in the deep or superficial veins is called phlebitis.

    Venous Sores

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

    Congenital Vascular Malformation (includes birthmarks)

    This is a catch-all term for the very few people, less than 1 percent, who are born with veins that are defective in some way. For example, the veins may not have valves. This category also includes birthmarks that are a cluster of veins close to the skin.


    Click here to learn about diagnosis and treatment of leg vein problems, and for more information about working with your doctor to make the best treatment choices for yourself or your loved one.