Venous Insufficiency

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

Your veins are the blood vessels that bring blood back to the heart. Venous insufficiency symptoms occur when your leg veins can no longer do this job effectively, causing some blood to pool in the legs instead of flowing upward toward the heart.

Healthy veins have one-way valves that help fight the pull of gravity and prevent the backward flow of blood. When you walk, your leg muscles also help by squeezing the veins deep within your legs, which pushes blood toward your heart.

About 40 percent of all Americans have chronic venous insufficiency. It is more likely to affect women and those over age 50.

Venous Insufficiency Symptoms

Depending on the severity of the condition, symptoms of venous insufficiency may include:

  • Edema, or swelling, in the lower legs and ankles, especially after standing
  • Itchy or flaky skin on the legs and feet
  • Leg cramping or weakness
  • New varicose veins or worsening of existing varicose veins
  • Skin discolorations or leathery skin on the legs
  • Tired, achy legs and feet, sometimes with burning or throbbing sensations
  • Ulcers or wounds on the legs and ankles that have trouble healing 

Venous Insufficiency Causes and Risk Factors

The most common cause of venous insufficiency stems from a blood clot in the deep veins of the legs, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis. Blood clots can lead to increased blood pressure in the veins, which damages the valves. Nearly 30 percent of those who develop deep vein thrombosis develop venous insufficiency within the following 10 years. Learn more about deep vein thrombosis symptoms

Venous insufficiency can also stem from varicose veins, which dilate and weaken vein walls and damage vein valves. Other conditions that can lead to venous insufficiency include aging, reduced mobility, sitting or standing for extended periods of time, hypertension, congenital defects, heredity, pelvic tumors, obesity, pregnancy, leg injuries and muscle weakness. Sometimes the cause of venous insufficiency isn’t known.

Diagnosing Venous Insufficiency

To diagnose venous insufficiency, your doctor will obtain a complete medical history and perform a physical exam, carefully checking your legs for signs of varicose veins or related signs.

Your doctor is also likely to check the blood pressure in your legs. To confirm a diagnosis, he or she is likely to perform a duplex ultrasound, a test that uses sound waves to detect blood clots and observe blood flow in the legs. 

Treating Venous Insufficiency

Like many conditions, it is better to prevent venous insufficiency from occurring. If that’s not possible, early treatment is the next best option. Tips for prevention and early treatment include:

  • Get regular exercise
  • If you have to sit or stand for long periods, try to take short walking breaks whenever possible
  • If you smoke, quit
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Take antibiotics to treat skin infections
  • Take good care of your legs and feet by washing the skin frequently and using a moisturizing lotion
  • Wear compression stockings

In more severe cases, your doctor may recommend:

  • Medicated compression wraps over the ankles and legs
  • Medications to prevent blood clots from forming
  • Nonsurgical procedures, such as sclerotherapy or endovenous thermal ablation

Sclerotherapyis a treatment for varicose veins that involves injections of concentrated salt solutions into the affected veins, causing them to collapse and disappear.Endovenous thermal ablation,also known as laser therapy, delivers heat through a catheter to close off problem veins. Compared to surgical procedures, this technique results in less pain, bleeding and bruising as well as a quicker recovery.

About 10 percent of those with venous insufficiency eventually require surgery. Some surgical options include:

  • A surgical bypass reroutes blood flow around a blocked vein by creating a new pathway for blood to flow. During this procedure, a surgeon removes the diseased portion of vein and replaces it with a graft, which is a portion of a normal vein taken from another site in the body. Bypass surgery is typically reserved for patients who have severe venous insufficiency, resulting in a painful, swollen leg and/or non-healing wounds.
  • Microincision/ambulatory phlebectomy is a minimally invasive procedure that removes problem veins through tiny incisions.
  • Ligation and stripping are two procedures that are performed at the same time. Ligation refers to the surgical tying of veins through a small incision in the skin to prevent pooling of blood. Stripping refers to the removal of the vein. In many instances, the vein is removed using a minimally invasive surgical procedure called venous ablation.

Leaders in Venous Insufficiency Treatment

Aurora Health Careoffers a multidisciplinary approach for treating venous insufficiency and other vascular conditions. Our team includes vascular medicine specialists, vascular surgeons, wound care specialists and podiatrists all under one roof.

Aurora doctors are conveniently located throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Find a doctor or heart specialist near you. To get a second opinion or if you need assistance finding a provider, please call 888-649-6892.