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. Theses 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 results 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.

You are more likely to have venous insufficiency if you:

  • Are older.
  • Are female.
  • Are overweight.
  • Don't get enough physical activity.
  • Smoke.
  • Have a family history of varicose veins.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of venous insufficiency affect the legs. They may include:

  • Swelling, often in the ankles.
  • A rash.
  • Varicose veins.
  • Itching.
  • Cramping.
  • Skin sores (ulcers).
  • Aching or a feeling of heaviness.
  • 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?

To reduce swelling and relieve pain caused by venous insufficiency, you can wear compression stockings. They are tighter at the ankles than at the top of the legs. They also can help venous skin ulcers heal. But there are different types of stockings, and they need to fit right. So your doctor will recommend what you need.

You also can try to:

  • Get more exercise, especially walking. It can increase blood flow.
  • Avoid standing still or sitting for a long time, which can make the fluid pool in your legs.
  • Try not to sit with your legs crossed at the knee.
  • Keep your legs raised above your heart when you're lying down. This reduces swelling.

If these treatments don't work, you may need medicine or a procedure to help relieve symptoms. Procedures might be done to close the vein, to remove the vein, or to improve blood flow.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: July 6, 2021

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