Varicose veins—whether you can see them or not—lead to leg pain, fatigue, heaviness, and swelling, but they are also the cause of a chronic immune response

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Dr. Sonja Stiller says there is truth to the adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” That’s because a proper diet—along with reduced stress, good sleep, and walking—can improve your circulation and reduce chronic inflammation. (Photography: Felicia Vargo)

By Mimi Vanderhaven

Right now there is a lot of emphasis on the circulatory system. February is American Heart Month, and 2024 marks the American Heart Associations’ centennial celebration. These are good reminders that we should all focus on keeping our heart healthy.

In addition, March is National Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) Awareness Month, a public health initiative aimed at raising awareness of this common medical condition. DVT is a blood clot in the veins that can break loose and cause a potentially fatal problem in the lung, called a pulmonary embolism.

“These two months are our months,” says Dr. Sonja Stiller, founder of Mentor’s Center for Advanced Vein Care. “It’s a time to help people focus on the importance of the entire circulatory system.”

Arteries Versus Veins
If you recall your high school anatomy class, the circulatory system is made up of both arteries and veins. Arteries deliver oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to the cells, while veins remove waste from the cells after they’ve used those nutrients. As Dr. Stiller likes to say, our veins “take out the trash.”

“Imagine cooking dinner every night and never cleaning up the kitchen or taking out the trash,” Dr. Stiller says. “Pretty soon you have an unhealthy mess. The same is true with your body. If you suffer from venous insufficiency—such as varicose veins—your blood isn’t flowing well enough to properly deliver metabolic waste to your kidneys and liver to be eliminated. That means these toxins can build up in your blood, causing a lot of problems, especially in your lower legs. That can result in achiness, tingling, swelling, fatigue, a higher possibility of blood clots—and chronic inflammation.”

The staff at the Center for Advanced Vein Care includes (left to right) founder Dr. Sonja Stiller, Stacy Kilbane, Tetiana Liashuk and Sam Rocazella.

Chronic Inflammation
While it’s easy to imagine inflammation in the lower legs caused by toxic build-up, it’s more difficult to grasp the nature of inflammation: It is never isolated to a single area.

“The body is a complex system,” Dr. Stiller explains. “Every cell in your body is no more than two cell-widths away from a blood vessel. That means inflammation anywhere is experienced everywhere.

“Inflammation is not inherently a bad thing. It’s our defense against things that are foreign, such as infections. When we catch a cold, the body tries to fix the situation by bringing in soldier cells to fight the virus. That’s a sign of a healthy immune system. But when it’s chronic—when the inflammation never settles down—it can snowball into serious health issues.”

More Than Vein Treatments
When treating inflammation related to vein disease, Dr. Stiller and her team work to repair veins that are broken so they can “take out the trash” more effectively. This reduces toxins related to metabolic waste, calms the inflammation, and allows the body to settle down.

But the staff does more to help reduce inflammation beyond just essential vein treatments. “Our relationship with patients is a two-way education,” Dr. Stiller says “We listen to patients to understand where they are, what’s important to them, and what they want to do with their lives. At the same time, we help them understand the factors that can improve their venous health. We look at other lifestyle issues that may be leading to inflammation, including stress factors, the disruption of your circadian rhythm due to sleep loss, diet, as well as how much compression socks can help, the importance of moving, and how you can take small steps to become more active.”

If you suffer from venous insufficiency, your blood isn’t flowing well enough to properly deliver metabolic waste to your kidneys and liver to be eliminated, resulting in the build-up of toxins.

The Importance of Staying Active
While the heart in your chest pumps the blood in your arteries, your veins also have what doctors call your “second heart.”

It’s your calf muscles.

“People are surprised to discover how essential the calf muscle is in moving blood up and out of our feet and lower legs,” Dr. Stiller says. “That’s why it’s so important to have strong calf muscles, and that comes from walking. Yes, 10,000 steps a day is a fine goal, but anything is better than nothing. Walk around your house. Start with 1,000 steps and work your way up. Or do what I do. Find a room in your house, turn up the music, and simply dance. Dancing is a great way to build stronger calf muscles.”

One of the best things you can do to improve venous insufficiency and make your legs look and feel better is to wear professionally fitted compression stockings. And today’s compression socks are fun, funky, and effective.

Your Family History
According to Dr. Stiller, one of the biggest risks of venous disease lies in family history. “There are lifestyle changes we can recommend to prevent venous disease, but there is little we can do about three of the biggest causes—gravity, aging, and genetic predisposition,” she says.

If one or more of your close family members suffered or is suffering from varicose veins, there is a higher likelihood that you will, too. If you have a family history of venous disease or if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it’s a good idea to get checked out now and help reduce the inflammation accompanying these symptoms:

• leg pain
• swelling
• heaviness
• fatigue
• itching
• burning or tingling
• skin discoloration
• restless leg syndrome.

For more information or to schedule your initial consultation, call the Center for Advanced Vein Care at 440-710-1140.

The Center for Advanced Vein Care is at 7200 Mentor Avenue, in Mentor. The phone number is 440-710-1140, and more can be found

Dr. Sonja Stiller is a diplomat of both the American Board of Emergency Medicine and the American Board of Venous and Lymphatic Medicine and the UIP 2023 Lead Chair for Scientific Abstracts. She is the founder of the Center for Advanced Vein Care, a Tier 1 provider with Lake Health Hospital System.