By definition, chronic venous insufficiency is when the valves in your veins are blocked and unable to send sufficient blood flow from your extremities—most commonly your legs—to your heart. To define chronic venous insufficiency accurately, it’s important to note that what ends up happening as a result of this condition is that the blood either flows back down toward your feet or it begins to collect somewhere within your veins. This is highly problematic because it deprives the heart, and in turn, other major organs of the complete blood supply required to help them function normally.
Prevalence of chronic vein insufficiency
Approximately 2–5 percent of the United States adult population suffers from chronic venous insufficiency, particularly women between the ages of 40–49 and men between the ages of 70–79. Although, both men and women are capable of developing chronic venous insufficiency, women are at a greater risk than men.
Age is one of the main factors that increases the prevalence of chronic vein insufficiency. Feeder veins, also known as reticular veins, start to appear during adolescence and can continue to develop during young adulthood. In rare cases, they can also begin to develop after a person’s childbearing and childrearing years have ended. Truncal varicosities are less common in young people and can begin to develop later on in life.
What are the causes of chronic venous insufficiency?
Deep vein thrombosis, or blood clots that happen deep within your veins, is one of the most common causes of chronic venous insufficiency. Other causes of chronic venous insufficiency include leading a sedentary lifestyle with very limited movement throughout the day and a lack of exercise. Lack of sufficient movement can raise the blood pressure in your veins, particularly your legs, since they tend to get used much less than your arms. Obesity, being over the age of 50, pregnancy (or having endured multiple pregnancies in your lifetime), having a family history of CVI, smoking, and having a history of developing blood clots in the past can also significantly increase your risk of suffering from CVI.
Biological sex can also be a major determining factor in the development of CVI. Women, in particular, are at greater risk of suffering from the signs and symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency. Statistically speaking, women are less likely to hold a job that requires constant movement or activity, which means they tend to lead more sedentary lifestyles. Not to mention the fact that many women endure multiple pregnancies throughout their lifetimes.
Symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency
The following is a list of the most common symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency that you may experience in your legs:
- Mild or immense pain
- Heaviness and swelling in the lower part of your legs and ankles
- Unusual and frequent itchiness
- Leathery skin
- Visibly varicose veins (veins that are engorged and extremely close to the surface of the skin)
The longer this condition is left untreated, the more the pressure and swelling in your legs will build up to the extent that you could develop painful ulcers. Your skin will also start to turn a brownish-reddish hue. Ulcers are very stubborn and difficult to heal. The longer they fester on your skin, the more likely they are to get infected. They can also continue to balloon and eventually burst.
If you suspect that you may be exhibiting any of the abovementioned symptoms associated with CVI, you should consult your doctor immediately to prevent the formation of ulcers and reverse the process of the condition.
How to diagnose chronic venous insufficiency
The first step to properly and accurately diagnosing chronic venous insufficiency is for your doctor to obtain a detailed patient family history. The next part of the chronic venous insufficiency diagnosis process is to perform a vascular or duplex ultrasound. This test involves your doctor placing a small medical device on the area of your skin where the varicose veins are the most prevalent. The purpose of this test is to observe the direction and speed of your blood flow.
If your doctor is able to rule out chronic venous insufficiency as the cause of your symptoms, then they’ll most likely perform other medical examinations to try and determine the source of your swelling, pain, and varicose veins.
Treatment options for chronic venous insufficiency
If you’ve been diagnosed with chronic venous insufficiency, you may be required to make certain lifestyle changes to counteract its symptoms. First and foremost, you need to add more movement to your daily routine if you happen to lead a fairly sedentary lifestyle. On the other hand, if you are constantly overexerting yourself, you need to learn to take more physical breaks. The older you get, the more you need to balance the amount of physical movement you do.
While regular exercise is an excellent way to stay healthy, it can also wreak havoc on your body if you overdo it. In some cases, the pain you feel is more than just normal muscle soreness. It’s your body communicating to you that you’re doing too much and need to take a bit of a break.
If you’re wondering how to treat chronic venous insufficiency, here are a few simple things you can do to improve your physical state and relieve the symptoms:
- Take care of your skin. Practicing impeccable skin hygiene such as washing and moisturizing on a regular basis can help prevent the formation of ulcers and skin infections.
- Get some exercise. Talk to your doctor, trainer, or a healthcare professional about creating a personalized workout plan that works specifically for you and your level of fitness. It’s important to ease yourself into a regular exercise routine, especially if you’re out of shape or overweight. There’s no way of getting around it. Even the mildest forms of exercise such as walking for 20 minutes a day are extremely beneficial to your health.
- Make an effort to lose weight and practice a healthy lifestyle. The occasional indulgence in your favourite sweet or savoury foods isn’t going to make or break your goal of leading a healthy lifestyle, but carrying extra weight around can put a great deal of additional pressure on your legs. Losing weight is an admirable and necessary ambition as long as it’s done in a safe and controlled manner.
- Your general practitioner might prescribe or recommend that you wear compression stockings, as these can help to apply intermittent pressure to the lower parts of your legs and induce proper blood flow while also reducing inflammation and pain.
- Keep your legs elevated on a regular basis. Whenever you’re lying down, try to keep your legs slightly lifted or propelled on a pillow if possible. You can even do regular exercises such as yoga that allow you to lift your legs up in the air for brief periods of time. This can also help stimulate blood flow from your legs toward your heart.
- Don’t spend too much time either sitting or standing. Try to keep a good balance between the amount of time you spend on and off your feet. Doing too much of the same thing can actually be problematic. If you work in an office and sit at a desk all day, try to get up and walk around once in a while, even if it’s just going back and forth to the bathroom or the kitchen. Conversely, if you have a job that requires you to spend countless consecutive hours on your feet, make sure that you try to sit down for at least 10–15 minutes every hour just to give your feet and legs a bit of a break.
- Treat skin infections with antibiotics to prevent them from worsening and spreading to other parts of your body.
- In more serious cases, surgical treatments for chronic venous insufficiency may be necessary.
Prevention and prognosis of chronic venous insufficiency
Some of the same basic principles that can be applied to treat chronic venous insufficiency can also be used as preemptive prevention devices as well. For instance, exercising on a regular basis is vital. You should also try to maintain a relatively healthy diet by eating lots of greens, legumes, and proteins. Try not to wear clothing that’s too tight for your body. Most importantly, if you’re a smoker, quit as soon as possible. Adhering to this advice will facilitate chronic venous insufficiency prevention.
Depending on the extent of the condition, the general chronic venous insufficiency prognosis can be positive with early detection and proper treatment.
For the most part, chronic venous insufficiency is preventable as long as you lead a generally healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, sometimes circumstances are out of your control. If you do have a family history of this condition, managing it can be extremely challenging but not necessarily impossible. It’s important to always be upfront and honest with your doctor and report any potential and abnormal symptoms as early as possible. As with any other medical condition, the sooner chronic venous insufficiency is diagnosed, the faster it can be treated and controlled.