Venous Insufficiency: Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, and Treatments
Veins are critical to the body’s circulatory system, returning blood from the organs and extremities back to the heart. However, issues can arise if this blood flow becomes impaired. Venous insufficiency (VI) occurs when valves within these veins become damaged, allowing blood to flow backwards (away from the heart) and pressure to build within the vein network of the lower extremities.
Causes of Venous Insufficiency
VI occurs as a result of some type of damage to the valves and/or lining of lower extremity veins. The most common causes of VI are age-related or due to high levels of estrogen, such as with pregnancy or longstanding use of oral contraceptives and hormone replacement. Blood clots and weak leg muscles due to poor ambulation can also contribute to the development of venous insufficiency.
Symptoms of Venous Insufficiency
Typical lower extremity symptoms many patients experience include:
- Aching, burning, throbbing, cramping, or other discomfort
- Skin discoloration, itching, or eczema
- Varicose veins
- Skin ulcers
Risk Factors for Developing Venous Insufficiency
Some of the risk factors that can contribute to venous insufficiency are:
- Old age
- Family history
- Female gender
- Pregnancy (especially multiple pregnancies) or long-standing use of oral contraceptives or hormone (estrogen) replacement therapy
- Prior blood clot related issues
- Obesity and inactivity
- Muscle weakness and difficulty with ambulation
- Major leg injuries
Treatment Options for Venous Insufficiency
There are many treatment options available for VI. The best treatment for your specific needs will depend upon your current condition along with other factors like your age and severity of symptoms. A thorough ultrasound examination will also help determine which veins are in need of treatment.
- Lifestyle Changes: Leg elevation, the use of prescription-strength compression stockings, and regular exercise will all help improve circulation within the lower extremities. These simple changes can make a big difference, especially in patients with less severe forms of VI.
- Sclerotherapy: A great alternative to surgery in certain patients, sclerotherapy is a simple procedure where a sclerosing solution is injected into the affected veins causing the vein to completely close and be naturally absorbed by the body.
- Surgery: In certain cases, a combination of laser and micro-incision phlebectomy (vein removal surgery) may be necessary to remove abnormal veins. This procedure is generally minimally painful with low recovery times.
Preventing Venous Insufficiency
There are many ways to prevent the development of VI including:
- Exercising regularly
- Using compression stockings
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Protecting your legs from injury
- Not smoking
- Refraining from sitting or standing in a single position for prolonged periods of time