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Venous Insufficiency

Condition Basics

What is venous insufficiency?

Venous insufficiency is a problem with the flow of blood from the veins of the legs back to the heart. The veins of the legs might not work as they should. This can allow blood to leak backward. It can lead to problems that include varicose veins.

Veins in leg, with detail of healthy vein and valve and of damaged vein that allows blood to leak backward.

In venous insufficiency, the valves in the veins have become damaged. These valves normally keep blood flowing toward the heart. But damaged valves allow some blood to leak backward. This causes the veins to become overfilled. Fluid seeps out of the engorged veins into surrounding tissues. This may result in tissue breakdown and venous skin ulcers.

What causes it?

Venous insufficiency is sometimes caused by deep vein thrombosis and high blood pressure inside leg veins. People who are pregnant, older, overweight, or have a family history of varicose veins are more likely to get it. So are people who smoke or stand for long periods of time.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of venous insufficiency affect the legs. Symptoms may include swelling (often in the ankles), cramping, aching, a heavy feeling in the legs, or varicose veins. You may also have skin problems like itching, sores, or changes in skin color.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose venous insufficiency by examining your legs and by using a type of ultrasound test (duplex Doppler) to find out how well blood is flowing in your legs.

How is venous insufficiency treated?

Your doctor may recommend wearing compression stockings to help relieve symptoms. Your doctor may also suggest other steps to try at home, such as getting regular exercise. Medicine or a procedure can also be treatment options. Procedures can close the vein, remove the vein, or improve blood flow.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Home care may help relieve your symptoms and improve blood flow. For example, wear compression stockings. Get regular exercise. Stay at a healthy weight. Avoid long periods of standing or sitting. Do not sit with your legs crossed at the knee. Prop up your legs above the level of your heart when lying down.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: December 19, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine

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