January 16, 2013 10.20 am This story is over 107 months old

Your health: Pump up the volume!

Clever veins: Did you know our vein system is like having a second heart? Lisa Boutlon looks at how you can spot a problem to act quickly.

Did you know it takes approximately one minute for your blood to circulate around your body? That means by the time you read this article your blood will have roughly travelled around your body twice. Each day the heart beats an average of 100,000 times and pumps approximately 2,000 gallons of blood through about 60,000 miles of blood vessels to tissues and organs.

There is no doubt the heart is a fantastic piece of engineering; but we also have a second heart!

Arteries take oxygenated blood from the heart. Veins however take deoxygenated blood back to the lungs and heart by means of the hearts residual pumping force. Also, muscle contraction of the calf and foot, along with our breathing contribute to moving blood back up the body. Veins have valves, which act like trapdoors, allowing blood to flow through but stop blood from moving backwards. This venous pumping system is often described as the second heart.

There are two systems of veins at work in the legs. The deep veins are a large diameter and are situated close to the bone, surrounded by muscle. The superficial veins are situated near the skin and are at times visible. These two systems have a series of connecting veins called perforators. When there is a reflux of blood from the higher pressure deep veins to the superficial veins from defective valves, varicose veins occur. Defective valves can also cause blood to pool around the lower leg.

If blood flow slows for some reason, blood clots may form which can lead to valve damage, enlarged veins and thrombosis (i.e. DVT). Some symptoms of a DVT are severe pain, tenderness, swelling, redness and warmth in the leg. If you have any symptoms of a DVT seek medical attention immediately.

A few other signs and symptoms of venous disease are spider veins, oedema, changes to the colour of the leg and condition of the skin, ulcers, (85% are venous) and there may be sensations of pain, tightness, heaviness or bursting deep inside the leg.

Risk factors for venous disease:

  • Family history of venous disease
  • Age
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Prolonged standing
  • Prolonged inactivity (i.e. flying, car journeys, sunbathing, sitting, immobility from surgery or injury etc)
  • A history of thrombosis
  • Injury or surgery
  • Illness
  • Certain medications (i.e contraceptive pill)
  • Lifestyle
  • Hypercoagulability

If you have any symptoms associated with venous disease it is important you consult your GP.

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Lisa Boulton is the Medical Director of Amethyst Health Screening, a local company which carries out health checks and cardiovascular risk assessments for Lincoln residents and local businesses. She contributes on health-related topics for The Lincolnite.