Chronic Venous Insufficiency – The Causes and Effects Explained

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It’s thought that Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI) affects up to 40% of the US population because in many cases, it goes undiagnosed. The simple reason for this is that (in the early stages at least) CVI doesn’t always develop physical signs. Instead, it’s often passed off for leg cramps or leg aches normally associated with standing or sitting in the same position for long periods of time.

However, while not a serious threat by itself, chronic venous insufficiency can be incredibly painful and disabling if not treated, and lead to other conditions that are more dangerous. So like most problems, it’s best to spot any signs and symptoms early so that they can be dealt with.

So what exactly is chronic venous insufficiency?

To put it simply, CVI occurs when veins located in the legs don’t allow normal blood flow back towards the heart. Normally, veins have a one-way flow valve that lets the blood flow up from your legs towards the heart but doesn’t allow it to flow backward into the legs.

If that one-way valve is faulty or has simply stopped working altogether, gravity dictates that any blood will flow back down into the legs causing it to collect or pool in leg veins. This, in turn, can cause problems such as:

  • Leg pain
  • Leg cramps – often brushed off as a restless leg,
  • Itching/burning sensations in the leg or,
  • Heavy and fatigued legs

These are often the first symptoms that people will get. Unfortunately, these same symptoms can be found in many other health problems. This is why CVI often goes undiagnosed at these early stages. Usually, it isn’t until more visible symptoms like…

  • Swelling of the ankles
  • Changes in the color and texture of the skin and
  • Leg ulcers

occur, that it’s often diagnosed and treated.

Unfortunately, particularly with leg ulcers, the area can easily and quickly become infected and may lead to cellulitis, gangrene, and eventually amputation. Of course, while this is an absolute worst-case scenario, it does highlight the need to spot the signs and symptoms of CVI early.

Now we know what chronic venous insufficiency is and its effects, let’s take a closer look into what causes it…

There are in fact various causes of CVI. As such, you are far more likely to have this condition if you are:

  • Overweight
  • Have a family history of vein problems
  • Have high blood pressure in the veins of the leg over time due to standing or sitting for long periods
  • Take little or no exercise,
  • Experience regular extended periods of sitting or standing, or
  • You smoke.

All of the above can cause weakening or damage to the valves which can result in chronic venous insufficiency.

As already stated, as the seriousness of the disease increases, so too do the complexities of the problem. If not treated, CVI can cause tiny capillaries contained within the legs to burst. When this occurs, the skin over the vessels tends to take on a brownish-red hue and is extremely sensitive to being broken if scratched or bumped.

At the very least, burst tissues can cause local tissue damage or inflammation, but in the worst cases, they can cause severe leg ulcers and open sores on the skin’s surface which can lead to infection of the surrounding areas.

So how do you treat chronic venous insufficiency?

Any skin infections can be treated using a variety of antibiotics and creams but once they are cleared up, the focus should be on dealing with the CVI itself.

Treatments include the wearing of compression stockings in order to lessen the pooling of blood in the vein area and improve the return of blood to the heart. Lifestyle changes too such as walking and exercise can assist in pumping blood through the legs while building up muscle to promote greater circulation.

In addition, there are medical treatments such as vein ablations that seal the vents shut, sclerotherapy which destroys the damaged vein, and phlebectomy which removes the vein entirely.

Ultimately, the good news is that chronic venous insufficiency, although common, is treatable. But as with most health problems, prevention by leading a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, is the best way to go. 

If you are concerned about chronic venous insufficiency and would like to find out more, then come and talk to Dr. Akinwande and the team at MINT. As a comprehensive vein treatment center, we take a holistic view to deal with all types of vein problems leading to better outcomes.

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