Venous Insufficiency: Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, and Treatments

Written by Daniel Friedmann, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist on April 22, 2015 5 Comments

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:

  • Swelling
  • 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

Daniel Friedmann, MD

Daniel P. Friedmann, M.D. is a fellowship-trained, board-certified dermatologist and phlebologist at Westlake Dermatology and Clinical Research Director of the Westlake Clinical Research Center. He has presented nationally on photorejuvenation, noninvasive fat reduction, radiofrequency devices, up-to-date techniques in photodynamic therapy, the management of stretch marks, and the treatment of hand, chest, and facial veins.

5 Responses to “Venous Insufficiency: Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, and Treatments”

  1. Avatar Leanna says:

    Very good blog, thank you very much for your time in writing this post.

  2. Avatar Lauren says:

    Very informative post! Thank you for writing about the causes, symptoms, and treatments concerning venous insufficiency. Knowing how to properly treat the development of VI is important information to know!

  3. Avatar Annn says:

    This may sound rediculous but it is true and I am being sincere..I was scheduled to have venous laser ablation today.. I have severe claustrophobia. The room the procedure was going to be performed in is very tiny and there was no windows. They have prescribed xanax and I had to reschedule for a later time. I am curious if your treatment room is a decent size and is there a window with a view of the outdoors. Thank you

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Annn, I’m so sorry to hear about your experience, it’s not ridiculous at all!

      In our main Westlake location, all of are treatment rooms are large and spacious, and most (but not all) feature prominent windows with mountain views. You could even contact us to setup a time to come and see a treatment room to see if you would feel comfortable with our facilities and team.

      WD Staff

  4. Avatar Sandra says:

    Thank you for explaining that VI can occur because of damage to valves and lining of the lower extremity veins, possibly due to high levels of estrogen. My sister has been worried that she might have VI after having her second child. I will recommend that she consult a professional instead of me since the only thing I know about VI is what I’ve read from this article.

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