What Is Venous Insufficiency? Symptoms, Causes, Treatments, and More

After a long day of work, you finally kick off your shoes and settle onto the couch, ready to relax. But instead of relief, you notice a persistent ache in your legs, accompanied by swelling. You realize this ache worsens at the end of the day or after long periods of sitting or standing still. Perhaps you’ve been experiencing this for a while, but you dismissed it as fatigue. However, these symptoms may be indicative of a more serious condition – venous insufficiency.

As you continue to experience discomfort and notice the appearance of varicose veins, you realize that something isn’t quite right. It’s essential to pay attention to these signs and seek professional evaluation. At Vein Doctor for Women, we carefully diagnose the root cause of your symptoms and curate a personalized treatment plan consisting of the latest minimally invasive vein treatments. Please continue reading to learn all about venous insufficiency.

What is Chronic Venous Insufficiency?

In healthy veins, blood is efficiently circulated back to the heart through a series of one-way valves. These valves open to allow blood flow towards the heart and then close to prevent backward flow or reflux. This mechanism ensures that blood moves against gravity, particularly in the lower extremities, maintaining optimal circulation throughout the body.

Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) occurs when these valves become damaged or weakened, affecting their ability to effectively regulate blood flow. As a result, blood may flow backward due to gravity and pool in the leg veins, leading to increased pressure. This elevated pressure can cause the veins to enlarge and bulge out of the skin’s surface as varicose veins. You may also experience swelling, pain, and skin changes. Over time, untreated CVI can lead to more severe complications, including venous ulcers and skin infections.

What is chronic venous insufficiency? What are the symptoms of venous insufficiency? How is venous insufficiency treated? We answer all your questions about CVI.

Signs & Symptoms of Venous Insufficiency:

  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, or feet
  • Small spider veins visible on the skin’s surface
  • Visible varicose veins, often twisted or bulging
  • Leg pain or aching, especially after prolonged periods of standing or sitting
  • Heaviness or fatigue in the legs
  • Skin discoloration, often appearing brown or red
  • Itching or dryness of the skin around the affected veins
  • Skin ulcers, particularly around the ankles in severe cases
  • Restless legs syndrome, characterized by an uncontrollable urge to move the legs
  • Skin thickening or hardening (lipodermatosclerosis)
  • Bleeding from varicose veins, particularly after minor trauma

The signs and symptoms of venous insufficiency gradually worsen with time. As more blood accumulates in the leg veins, the symptoms also escalate, eventually leading to serious complications. Instead of dismissing the early symptoms of venous insufficiency, you must seek prompt diagnosis and treatment to address the root cause.

Potential Complications of Untreated CVI:

  • Venous ulcers: Open sores that develop on the skin, typically around the ankles, due to poor circulation and increased pressure in the veins.
  • Skin infections: Chronic venous insufficiency can compromise the skin’s barrier function, making it more susceptible to infections such as cellulitis.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): Stagnant blood flow in the veins increases the risk of blood clot formation, which can lead to a potentially life-threatening condition if the clot dislodges and travels to the lungs (pulmonary embolism).
  • Pulmonary embolism: A blood clot that travels to the lungs can block blood flow, causing sudden shortness of breath, chest pain, and potentially fatal consequences.
  • Chronic venous hypertension: Prolonged elevation in venous pressure can lead to chronic hypertension, which further exacerbates symptoms and increases the risk of complications.
  • Lipodermatosclerosis: Thickening and hardening of the skin in the lower legs, often accompanied by pain and inflammation.
  • Skin changes: Chronic venous insufficiency can cause skin discoloration, hyperpigmentation, and eczema-like rashes, affecting the aesthetic appearance and overall skin health.

What Are the Risk Factors for Venous Insufficiency?

Understanding the underlying causes of venous insufficiency can help in prevention and management. Some common factors contributing to this condition include:

  • Age: As we age, the valves in our veins may weaken, increasing the risk of CVI.
  • Gender: Women are more susceptible to venous insufficiency than men.
  • Family History: A family history of venous insufficiency can predispose individuals to the condition.
  • Obesity: Excess weight puts additional pressure on the veins, leading to decreased circulation.
  • Prolonged Standing or Sitting: Jobs or activities that require long periods of standing or sitting can impair venous circulation.
  • Pregnancy: The increased blood volume and pressure on the veins during pregnancy can contribute to venous insufficiency.
  • Previous Blood Clots: A history of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can damage the veins and increase the risk of insufficiency.

How Is Venous Insufficiency Diagnosed?

If you experience symptoms of venous insufficiency, it is important to seek medical evaluation for an accurate diagnosis. At Vein Doctor for Women, our vein doctors conduct a thorough evaluation to determine the root cause of your symptoms. During your consultation, our vein doctors carefully examine your leg veins, discuss your symptoms, and ask about your medical history. A thorough examination of your legs and ankles can help identify visible signs of venous insufficiency, such as varicose veins and swelling.

After an evaluation, they recommend vascular imaging tests, such as a Doppler ultrasound, to confirm their diagnosis. Doppler ultrasound is a non-invasive imaging technique used to assess blood flow in the veins and identify any abnormalities. Examining the direction of blood flow in your leg veins allows our vein doctors to identify the damaged saphenous vein responsible for your symptoms and curate a personalized treatment plan.

What Are the Treatment Options for Venous Insufficiency?

Fortunately, there are several effective minimally invasive vein treatments available for venous insufficiency. The choice of treatment depends on the severity of the condition and individual patient factors. Some common vein treatment options include:

  • Compression Stockings: Compression stockings are a non-invasive treatment option that helps improve blood flow in the legs by applying gentle pressure. These specialized garments compress the veins, helping to prevent blood from pooling and reducing swelling. Compression stockings come in various lengths and pressures, and they are typically worn during the day to alleviate symptoms of venous insufficiency.
  • Endovenous Laser Ablation (EVLA): EVLA is a minimally invasive procedure used to treat underlying venous reflux in larger varicose veins. During the procedure, a thin laser fiber is inserted into the affected vein under ultrasound guidance. The laser energy heats the vein, causing it to collapse and seal shut. Over time, the treated vein is absorbed by the body, and blood is rerouted to healthier veins.
  • Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA): Similar to EVLA, RFA is a minimally invasive procedure that uses radiofrequency energy to heat and seal off diseased veins. A catheter equipped with a radiofrequency electrode is inserted into the vein, and controlled heat is applied, causing the vein to collapse and close. RFA is effective in treating venous reflux and relieving symptoms associated with venous insufficiency.
  • VenaSeal: VenaSeal is a relatively new treatment option for venous insufficiency that utilizes a medical adhesive to seal off damaged veins. A small amount of adhesive is injected into the vein, causing it to close and redirect blood flow to healthier veins. VenaSeal does not require tumescent anesthesia and offers minimal discomfort and downtime.
  • ClariVein: ClariVein is a catheter-based procedure that combines mechanical agitation and chemical sclerosant to treat varicose veins. A rotating wire mechanically disrupts the vein wall while a sclerosant solution is simultaneously infused, causing the vein to collapse and seal shut. ClariVein is a minimally invasive alternative to traditional vein stripping surgery.
  • Ambulatory Phlebectomy: Ambulatory phlebectomy is a surgical technique used to remove superficial varicose veins through small incisions in the skin. This outpatient procedure is performed under local anesthesia and offers immediate relief from bulging, painful varicose veins. Ambulatory phlebectomy is often combined with other vein treatments for comprehensive management of venous insufficiency.
  • Sclerotherapy: Sclerotherapy is a minimally invasive treatment for spider veins and smaller varicose veins. During the procedure, a sclerosant solution is injected directly into the affected veins, causing irritation and inflammation of the vein wall. Over time, the treated veins collapse and are absorbed by the body, resulting in clearer, smoother skin. Sclerotherapy is a quick and effective treatment option with minimal discomfort and downtime.

Can I Prevent Venous Insufficiency?

While some risk factors for venous insufficiency, such as age and family history, cannot be modified, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and promote vein health. These include:

  • Regular Exercise: Engage in activities that promote good circulation, such as walking, swimming, or cycling.
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Excess weight puts added pressure on the veins, so maintaining a healthy weight can help alleviate strain on the circulatory system.
  • Elevate Your Legs: Elevating your legs above heart level for short periods throughout the day can help improve venous blood flow.
  • Avoid Prolonged Sitting or Standing: If your job requires long periods of sitting or standing, take regular breaks to move and stretch.
  • Wear Compression Stockings: Consider wearing compression stockings, especially if you have a family history of venous insufficiency or if you are pregnant.

Schedule Your Consultation

Venous insufficiency is a common condition that can significantly impact your quality of life if left untreated. However, with early detection and appropriate management, many individuals can experience relief from symptoms and prevent complications. At Vein Doctor for Women, we are dedicated to providing compassionate care and personalized treatment plans to help you achieve optimal vein health. If you suspect you may be suffering from venous insufficiency, don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation for expert evaluation and treatment options.

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