Veins and arteries are like the pipes in your home. Some pipes bring water into your home, and other pipes take water out of it your home. All of these pipes have a mechanism that prevents water from going the wrong way in the pipe.
In the case of veins and arteries, the veins bring blood back to the heart and the arteries distribute blood after it has been oxygenated by the lungs. Like the pipes in your home, both veins and arteries have a mechanism that prevents blood from flowing the wrong way in the pipe.
Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) is the result of the valves in your veins not working correctly. These valves prevent blood from regurgitating back into the vein and pooling. But with chronic venous insufficiency, the valves are faulty and allow blood not only to flow backward but also to pool in the vein. This can happen in any limb, but most commonly occurs in the leg.
What Causes Chronic Venous Insufficiency
Any condition that causes weakening of the blood vessels in the body can cause chronic venous insufficiency. However, the most common condition is high blood pressure. Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure occurs when the blood in the body circulates at high pressure (as its name would suggest).
This damages all blood vessels, but the damage is especially prevalent in the legs. This constant high pressure against the valves makes them weak and unable to prevent the backflow of blood, leading to venous insufficiency.
But other conditions can cause CVI or increase your risk of developing the disease including:
- A job that requires standing and/or walking for long periods
- Deep vein thrombosis or blood clots in the veins of the legs
- Being a former or current smoker
- Leading a sedentary life with little to no exercise
- Eating a diet high in sugars and carbs
If you have a family history of chronic venous insufficiency or blood clots, you are at higher risk of developing the disease. Trauma, injury, or surgery to the legs will also increase the likelihood that you will develop venous insufficiency.
Chronic Venous Insufficiency Symptoms
Like most diseases, CVI can cause a variety of symptoms that can vary from person to person. However, there are commonalities among these symptoms. These include:
- Leg or ankle swelling
- Pain, while exercising or walking that subsides when you rest
- Tight sensation in the legs or a feeling of itching in the legs
- Discolored or brown skin near the ankles
- Varicose veins or spider veins
- Leg cramps and muscle spasms that are painful
- Restless leg syndrome or an irresistible sensation to move the legs
- Ulcers on the legs that are difficult to treat and slow to heal
Most patients have no symptoms of CVI. This is why if you suspect you may have venous insufficiency, you see a vein specialist in the Northern Illinois and Chicago area right away. Chronic venous insufficiency can be life-threatening if not treated and lead to a more sinister condition called deep vein thrombosis.
Chronic Venous Insufficiency Diagnosis
Diagnosing venous insufficiency is relatively straightforward. One of our physicians will ask you about your medical history. Be sure to tell your physician everything including:
- Any surgeries you may have had
- Medications, vitamins, and supplements you take
- If you have any other underlying health conditions
After your medical history, your doctor will examine your legs for any visible signs of venous disease like skin discoloration and swelling. Several tests may be ordered after the initial examination. Typically, our doctors in Sycamore and Geneva, IL will conduct what is called a duplex ultrasound. The doctor will place an ultrasonic probe on the area to be examined. This will allow the doctor to view the veins and determine the speed at which blood flows through them and in which direction it flows. If you suffer from CVI due to faulty valves, it will be easily seen during this test.
Treatment for Chronic Venous Insufficiency in Illinois
There are a number of treatments for vein disease that range from conservative to invasive. Depending on your condition, your vein specialist may recommend the use of compression stockings to help with swelling and various treatments for skin problems such as ulcers or itching. Exercise is also a common therapy.
If your vein disease is more advanced, pharmaceuticals may be prescribed that improve the tone of the veins and capillary permeability. Your doctor may recommend sclerotherapy or endovenous ablative therapy if medications are not an option or your vein disease is more advanced.