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What is Vein Swelling?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Vein swelling is a potentially serious medical condition that occurs when one’s veins become distended due to the presence of a blood clot. Also known as thrombophlebitis, vein swelling may occur in any part of the body. Frequently diagnosed in the lower extremities, treatment for vein swelling can range from self-care measures, such as keeping the affected appendage elevated, to surgery. Risks of vein swelling can include skin ulceration and varicose veins.

Normal vein function allows for unfettered blood flow through the circulatory system. If blood circulation becomes impaired for any reason, blood cells may accumulate and form a clot. As the blood clot grows, the walls of the affected vein become distended, or swollen.

Though vein distention is most frequently associated with inactivity and arterial plaque buildup, there are several other factors that can contribute to its development. Smokers, morbidly obese individuals, and pregnant women are often considered to have an increased risk for vein swelling due to elevated venous pressure and stricture. Chronic conditions that adversely impact blood clotting or foster venous irritation may also place individuals at risk for vein distention.

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Thrombophlebitis is a condition that can cause intense discomfort, prompting a visit to one's physician. Individuals with symptoms of vein distention generally undergo an extensive consultation and physical examination. A battery of imaging tests, including ultrasound, may be used to establish the precise location and size of the blood clot. Additional diagnostic tests may be used to measure blood flow in the immediate area of the clot to further determine the severity of the venous obstruction.

Symptoms of vein distention are generally dependent on the location of the swelling. Individuals with superficial vein swelling, that which occurs close to the skin's surface, will frequently notice that the affected vein is not only visible, but warm to the touch. When a vein deep within the soft tissue is affected, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) develops and the affected area may exhibit pronounced swelling, though it should be noted that many people can develop DVT and remain asymptomatic, meaning they exhibit no obvious signs or symptoms. Regardless of the depth of vein distention, it is not uncommon for symptomatic individuals to experience inflammation and varying degrees of discomfort that may present as a mild throbbing sensation to pronounced tenderness and pain.

When self-care measures, including the application of heat and use of over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics, are not effective or feasible, a variety of treatment options are available. Mild to moderate cases of vein distention may be treated with medications designed to thin the blood, prevent existing clots from maturing and inhibit the formation of new ones. Severe symptoms may necessitate surgery to excise the clot or all the affected venous tissue. Individuals with a history of chronic, localized clot formation may require either venous angioplasty or bypass.

If vein swelling is left untreated it can contribute to the development of life-threatening complications. Not only does vein swelling inhibit proper blood flow, but the clot causing the distention has the potential to break loose, travel through the circulatory system and settle elsewhere. When this occurs, one’s risk for heart attack, stroke and permanent vein damage significantly increases.

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