Chronic venous insufficiency: What to know
Venous insufficiency occurs when the valves in a person's veins do not work properly. This means that the veins are less able to transport blood back to the heart.
Venous insufficiency is fairly common. According to the Society for Vascular Surgery, it affects up to 40 percent of people in the United States.
It is also usually chronic. This condition causes leg and foot swelling, varicose veins, and aching legs.
In this article, we cover the causes and risk factors for venous insufficiency, as well as how to diagnose and treat it.
What is venous insufficiency?
The heart pumps oxygen-rich blood through the arteries to the rest of the body, while the veins bring deoxygenated blood back to the heart.
When a person has venous insufficiency, their veins have trouble moving deoxygenated blood from the arms and legs back to the heart. Faulty valves inside the veins usually cause venous insufficiency.
Veins have valves made up of two flaps, which prevent the backward flow of blood. These are called bicuspid valves. If the veins are damaged or become dilated, the valves may fail to close properly.
When the valves do not work properly, blood will flow back into the veins instead of forward to the heart. This causes blood to pool in the veins, often in the legs and feet.
This results in many of the symptoms associated with venous insufficiency, such as skin discoloration, swelling, and pain.
Some of the symptoms of venous insufficiency include:
- heaviness, throbbing, or dull aching in the legs
- swelling of the legs and ankles
- cramping or itching in the legs
- patches of darker, brownish skin
- thicker or harder skin on the legs or ankles
- open sores
- blood clots
- varicose veins
The following factors are more likely to cause venous insufficiency:
- having a family history of the condition
- having blood clots
- having varicose veins
- being pregnant
- having obesity
- having phlebitis, or swelling of superficial veins
- sitting or standing for long periods of time
The best treatment for chronic venous insufficiency will vary from person to person. Doctors must consider several factors before deciding on the best treatment course.
Some of these factors include the cause and symptoms of venous insufficiency and the age and health status of the person.
Treatments for chronic venous insufficiency include the following:
Healthcare provides may prescribe medications that improve blood flow through the vessels. Some medications that can help treat venous insufficiency include:
diuretics, which are medications that remove excess fluid from the body
pentoxifylline, which reduces inflammation and improves blood flow
blood thinners, or anticoagulants, which prevent blood clots
Journal of Phlebology and Lymphology