Poor circulation is a common problem, but can have serious effects on the foot and leg if not treated appropriately. The body's tissues receive oxygen and nutrients through the blood stream. The blood is delivered to the far reaches of the body through the arteries, having been pumped through the heart from the lungs, where the blood receives it's oxygen. Once at the tissue, smaller blood vessels called arterioles and capillaries distribute the nutrients everywhere that needs it. The blood then collects in the veins, removed of nutrients and oxygen and carrying waste chemicals from the tissue. From an ever increasing system of veins the blood is returned to the heart and lungs, where the process starts all over again. When this system begins to fail, there can be serious problems that develop in the parts of the body beyond where the problem arose.
The return of blood and its fluid content back to the heart and lungs is important, and allows the circulatory system to function normally. Unlike the arteries, which are assisted by the heart and have muscle to pump the blood through their length, the veins rely on on a series of one way valves and the action of leg muscles that surround them to pump blood out of the feet and legs. When the valves become diseased or nonfunctional, the blood that should get pumped out of the legs becomes somewhat stuck in the legs, causing swelling, or edema, as the fluid content of the blood leaches out into the tissue of the leg. This swelling becomes lessened at night when one elevates their legs while in bed, and then promptly begins to increase as one stands on their feet all day. By the end of the day those with vein disease tend to have swollen feet, ankles, and legs. External signs of this disease come in the form of purple or blue spidery lines that rise from the skin. Spider veins and varicose veins are simply veins both superficial and deep respectively that have become engorged with blood, unable to properly deliver blood back towards the heart. Although these can be unsightly, their appearance heralds a more serious problem. The development of venous insufficiency, the disease that is caused by poor vein return, can lead to numerous problems. Among these are numerous changes to the skin that result in itching, skin thickening, skin discoloration due to iron pigment leaching into the skin from the blood, as well as difficult to heal wounds. Swollen legs are achy, sensitive, and often don't allow for shoes to be worn without significant tightness. The superficial veins can become inflamed and swollen, leading to leg inflammation. Long standing venous insufficiency can also put one at serious risk for developing blood clots in the legs due to the sluggish blood flow. These clots can eventually break loose and travel to the lungs, causing a medical emergency that can quickly lead to death.
Treatment is needed to prevent wounds and skin disease, and involves many different components. The most important component is compression of the legs with compression stockings to help drive the fluid out of the leg tissue. These stockings are effective, but are difficult to put on and remove and must be used daily. Elevation of the legs when one is at rest also helps keep the fluid from engorging in the skin. Surgery can be performed to help with the cosmetic issue of varicose and spider veins, and some vascular surgeons may have treatment options for the deeper disease.