The saphenous vein (otherwise known as the great saphenous vein or GSV) is the longest in the human body. It extends from the top of the foot to the upper thigh/groin area and like all veins, problems can occur. So what issues are associated with the GSV and more importantly, why do they occur. Let’s take a closer look.
Types of Saphenous Vein Problems
There are in essence two things that can and do go wrong with saphenous veins.
- Firstly, it can develop a blood clot leading to thrombosis or
- Valves within the vein can fail leading to pooling or ‘reflux’ of blood. This in turn causes a condition known as venous incompetence or chronic vein insufficiency.
Blood Clot in the Great Saphenous Vein
Although on rare occasions venous clots can form without any obvious cause, the vast majority of thromboses are triggered by one of three conditions. These are…
- A slowed flow of blood usually caused by long periods of inactivity
- A boost to the activity of the blood’s clotting system usually caused by changes in the immune system such as illness; or
- A vascular injury caused by an accident, knock, or trauma
A blood clot in the GSV can often be identified by a warm, tender, or aching feeling in the leg area. In some cases, it can also cause swelling. The key thing to remember with any blood clot is that although the condition itself isn’t life-threatening, pieces of the clot can break off and travel towards the lung where it can become lodged. This is known as a pulmonary embolism and can be a life-threatening condition if not diagnosed and treated early.
So how do you treat blood clots in the saphenous vein?
A combination of careful management, compression, and mobilization are key factors in the treatment of thrombolytic conditions. Both bandages and graduated compression stockings can help to clear a clot coupled with carefully structured exercise. Treatment may also include the taking of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or anticoagulants to help eradicate the clot.
If the patient doesn’t respond to the above treatments, then surgical methods can be performed, Typically, however, surgery like vein stripping or ligation is normally only used as a last resort.
So that’s a blood clot, what about saphenous vein incompetence?
Saphenous Vein Reflux
In any vein - and the great saphenous vein is no exception – there are a series of valves. Their primary function is to direct and control the flow of blood by pushing it upwards towards the heart. Sometimes, in cases of chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), these valves can fail resulting in gravity causing the blood to flow back down the leg. In the saphenous vein particularly, blood can flow backward from the heart down to a patient’s ankle. In doing so, it can either stretch the main smaller veins coming off the great saphenous vein resulting in varicosities (varicose veins) or it can cause inflammation or damage to the thousands of tiny capillaries.
Symptoms of the latter include swelling, tenderness, or tiredness in the limb area or visible red or brown patches around the ankle. Either way, both conditions aren’t particularly pleasant for the patient concerned,
What about treatments for saphenous vein reflux?
Treatment techniques for saphenous vein reflux (incompetence) include the following:
- Non-surgical radiofrequency ablation using heat to shrink the problematic veins or capillaries
- Laser ablation of the defective saphenous vein
- Chemical ablative methods using body-friendly foam or glue
- Mechanical ablation using a small device and finally - as a last resort,
- Traditional open surgery where the damaged vein is removed completely.
The type of treatment used will depend heavily on a patient’s condition, needs, and requirements. The good news, however, is that the vast majority of these treatments are both non-invasive and proven to work.
So there you have it, everything you need to know about saphenous vein problems, why they occur, and how they can be treated.
The best course of action to avoid GSV insufficiency altogether is to be a healthy weight and try to remain active. If, however, you feel you might be showing signs like varicose veins or painful aching or swollen limbs, then it’s always best to consult your doctor.
Alternatively, you can visit a vein specialist like Dr. Goke Akinwande here at MINT. He can quickly determine if you have saphenous vein issues and how they can be treated.
Remember, the worst thing you can do with any vein issues is to ignore them. So don’t delay, call the Midwest Institute for Non-Surgical Therapy today on 315 255 2204 or book a consultation online. We have the skills to give you the medical care you need and the quality of life you deserve.