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What You Need to Know About Iliac Veins

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There are so many different types of veins in our bodies it is sometimes hard to keep track.

One type of vein that you may not have heard much about, but that is of great importance is the iliac vein. Issues with iliac veins can lead to things such as chronic venous insufficiency and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE), so it is a good idea to learn more about this vein and know the signs to watch out for that something may be amiss.

The 411 on Iliac Veins

What are iliac veins and what do they do?

The iliac veins are located in the abdomen. The common iliac vein is made up of the internal and external iliac veins. The internal iliac veins drain blood from the organs in the pelvic area, and the external iliac veins are a continuation of the veins draining the legs (called the femoral veins).

The joining of the common internal and external iliac veins create what is known as the inferior vena cava which transports blood to the heart.

What is Iliac Vein Compression Syndrome (MTS)?

This anatomic variation, also called May-Thurner syndrome (MTS), “is the pathological compression of the left common iliac vein by the right common iliac artery.” MTS can lead to “left lower extremity pain, swelling, and deep venous thrombosis.”

May-Thurner syndrome (MTS)

Image courtesy of Vir Clinic.

While it can occur in men, the majority of MTS cases occur in women. In fact, a 2018 study showed that MTS is found in at least twice as many women as men.

What are the risk factors of May-Thurner syndrome?

While not all cases of MTS can be attributed to specific risk factors, there are some known things that can increase a person’s chance of getting deep vein thrombosis as a result of May-Thurner syndrome. These include:

  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Scoliosis
  • Are female
  • Take oral birth control
  • Have a condition that causes blood to clot too much
  • Pregnancy/postpartum
  • Have had more than one chile
  • Dehydration
  • Infection
  • Hormone changes (ex: menopause)

What are the signs of May-Thurner syndrome?

Some cases of MTS go undetected, unless they become so bad that they lead to deep vein thrombosis.

However, some people do experience symptoms that include:

  • Leg swelling
  • Heaviness in the leg
  • Leg ulcers
  • Leg pain or cramping
  • Enlarged veins
  • Change in skin color (more purple or red than normal)

How do you know if you have May-Thurner syndrome?

If you are having any issues with your veins, schedule a consultation with a vein specialist immediately. In the consultation your doctor will determine a diagnosis that may require simply a physical examination, or something more in-depth such as an ultrasound, a CT scan or an MRI scan to look at your iliac vein.

Worried your iliac veins are damaged?

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Satish Vayuvegula
Dr. Satish Vayuvegula is the National Medical Director at Vein Clinics of America. Certified by the American Board of Venous & Lymphatic Medicine, Dr. Satish Vayuvegula is recognized as a physician who has met rigorous standards of knowledge and extensive training in phlebology, the diagnosis and treatment of varicose vein disease and related disorders. Dr. Satish also shares his passion and expertise by serving as a board member of the American Vein and Lymphatic Society, the predominant national organization for venous and lymphatic disease.

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