What is Chronic Venous Insufficiency?

posted in: Varicose Veins

Chronic venous insufficiency represents a progressive state of venous insufficiency. It begins when the veins fail to effectively circulate the blood from the body back to the heart. The condition primarily impacts the venous walls or valves, particularly within the legs. As a result, blood accumulates within the veins—a condition known as stasis. If untreated, chronic venous insufficiency can lead to severe complications. Nearly forty per cent of adults in the United States and the United Kingdom, particularly those of middle age or older, and women, especially those with multiple pregnancies, are affected by this condition.

Chronic Venous Insufficiency - Vein Solutions

Understanding the Causes of Chronic Venous Insufficiency

The primary cause of chronic venous insufficiency is a blood clot within the leg’s deepest veins, called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Other contributors include vascular malformations, pelvic tumours, untreated high blood pressure in the leg veins, insufficient exercise, extended periods of standing or sitting, and smoking.

Recognising the Risk Factors for Chronic Venous Insufficiency

In the early stages, the symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency can be subtle. Common warning signs often dismissed as ordinary discolouration, tan lines, or dry skin include darker skin near the ankles and itchy legs. The following risk factors and symptoms could indicate the presence of chronic venous insufficiency, and individuals noticing these should consult a vascular specialist as soon as possible:

  • Darkening or brownish skin on the lower legs
  • Leg pain while walking, sitting, or at rest
  • Leg ulcers
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Persistent leg cramps, restlessness, or itchiness
  • Swelling in the ankle or lower leg
  • A tightening sensation in the calves
  • A family or personal history of varicose veins
  • Newly formed varicose veins
  • Individuals aged fifty years or older
  • Recent injury
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Frequently sitting or standing for extended periods
  • Inactivity or prolonged resting of the legs


Seeking Timely Treatment for Chronic Venous Insufficiency

Despite chronic venous insufficiency affecting a significant portion of the population, only ten per cent seek treatment. This trend is prevalent among women and individuals over fifty years of age. Many individuals either fail to notice symptoms, misattribute them to less serious causes, or ignore the condition entirely.

It is important to consult a vascular specialist promptly if experiencing any symptoms that may indicate chronic venous insufficiency. It’s safer to be cautious and rule out a minor issue than to ignore the symptoms and potentially risk severe health consequences. Several effective therapies are available for the treatment of this condition.

Diagnosis of Chronic Venous Insufficiency

The most common diagnostic methods for chronic venous insufficiency are a duplex ultrasound and a carotid duplex scan. These tools use high-frequency sound waves to visualise the leg vein structures and measure blood flow velocity. A venogram, another diagnostic procedure, uses a contrast dye to visualise the veins in X-rays, thus aiding the medical professional in evaluating the condition and size of the veins.


Approaches to Treat Chronic Venous Insufficiency

Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) management revolves around alleviating symptoms, preventing complications, and improving quality of life. Strategies encompass conservative and interventional approaches, depending on the severity of the disease and the individual’s overall health status. Treatment methods range from lifestyle modifications and self-care routines to medications and surgical procedures.

Lifestyle Modifications and Self-Care Routines

The initial approach to managing CVI often involves simple lifestyle changes and self-care routines:

  • Elevation of Legs: This helps reduce pressure on the leg veins and promotes better blood flow back to the heart. Ideally, legs should be elevated above the heart level for about 30 minutes, three or four times daily.
  • Uncrossed Leg Position: Sitting with crossed legs can increase vein pressure, inhibiting blood flow. Therefore, it’s advised to sit with legs uncrossed and preferably elevated.
  • Regular Exercise: Regular low-impact exercises, such as walking or swimming, can help boost circulation in the legs and strengthen the calf muscles, which function as natural pumps for blood return.
  • Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the pressure on the veins and help manage symptoms of CVI.

Compression Therapy

Compression therapy is a cornerstone in the treatment of CVI. By wearing compression stockings, pressure is applied to the legs, helping the veins carry blood back to the heart more efficiently, reducing swelling and relieving pain.


Pharmacotherapy can play a supportive role in CVI treatment. Medications may include:

  • Diuretics: They help remove excess fluid from the body, reducing oedema in the legs.
  • Anticoagulants or Blood Thinners: These are used for preventing or treating blood clots.
  • Venotonics: These medications, such as horse chestnut extract, improve vein health and can alleviate some symptoms of CVI.
  • Topical Medications: They are applied to the skin to help heal ulcers and treat dermatitis.

Minimally Invasive Procedures

If conservative treatments are not effective, minimally invasive procedures may be considered:

  • Sclerotherapy: This involves injecting a solution into the veins, causing them to collapse and eventually be absorbed by the body. This technique reroutes blood flow to healthier veins.
  • Endovenous Ablation: This procedure uses laser or radio-frequency energy to heat and seal off affected veins.

Surgical Interventions

In severe cases where other treatments have failed, surgery might be considered:

  • Vein Stripping: This involves surgically removing the affected veins.
  • Valve Repair: In some cases, malfunctioning valves in the veins can be repaired surgically.
  • Vein Transplant: Healthy veins are taken from other parts of the body to replace damaged veins.

Treatment decisions are based on multiple factors, including the patient’s overall health, age, symptoms, therapy tolerance, and personal preferences. It’s important to note that early treatment can prevent CVI from progressing and can improve the patient’s quality of life. Regular follow-up with healthcare providers is also crucial to monitor the disease and adjust treatment.

Living with Chronic Venous Insufficiency

Living with chronic venous insufficiency can be manageable with an effective care regimen. Taking proactive steps to help reduce symptoms and manage the condition is essential. These steps may include:

  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and a balanced diet. Exercise, especially walking, can stimulate blood flow and improve leg strength.
  • Avoid prolonged periods of standing or sitting. Make it a point to change positions frequently and elevate your legs whenever possible.
  • Wearing compression stockings as advised by your healthcare provider. These stockings can help to improve blood circulation in the legs, reduce swelling, and relieve pain.
  • Staying hydrated and avoiding alcohol and caffeine can lead to dehydration and exacerbate symptoms.
  • Keeping a close eye on the condition of your skin, particularly on your legs and ankles. Early detection of changes, such as discolouration, can aid in early treatment and prevent complications.

Chronic venous insufficiency is widespread, affecting a significant portion of the adult population, particularly those aged fifty and above. Despite its prevalence, many individuals fail to seek treatment due to a lack of awareness of the symptoms. By educating oneself and being proactive, managing the situation effectively and minimising potential complications is possible.

Various treatments exist for chronic venous insufficiency, from lifestyle changes to medications and minimally invasive procedures. It is crucial to consult a vascular specialist promptly if you notice any symptoms or suspect that you may be at risk.

While living with chronic venous insufficiency can be challenging, adopting a healthy lifestyle, engaging in regular physical activity, wearing compression stockings, and keeping yourself hydrated can help manage the condition effectively. By doing so, you can maintain your quality of life and potentially halt the progression of the disease.


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