Venous insufficiency (VI) is a problem with the circulatory system that stems from the veins in your legs. Up to 40% of US adults suffer from some form of insufficiency, which can turn chronic (CVI) if not treated.
At Comprehensive Vascular Care, with locations in Novi and Southfield, Michigan, our team of board-certified vascular specialists uses advanced tools and techniques to diagnose and treat venous insufficiency in their patients in Southfield and Novi, Michigan, while taking a personalized approach to each and every case. They’re also passionate about education, and since early diagnosis and treatment of VI can prevent serious health complications, they want you to recognize its signs so you can get help when you need it.
The lowdown on venous insufficiency
Your circulatory system contains a closed-loop network of arteries and veins. The major routes are the arteries, which take oxygenated blood from your heart and deliver it to your body’s tissues, and the veins, which return deoxygenated blood back to the heart.
Blood going through the veins has to flow against the pull of gravity, so your body developed two mechanisms to help. First, the calf and thigh muscles contract, squeezing the veins and forcing the blood forward. And second, the veins have one-way valves that close once the blood passes, preventing any backflow.
If the valves become damaged (often from high blood pressure), they can’t close completely. Blood flow becomes sluggish, and blood can move backward, pooling around the valve. This is termed venous insufficiency because blood flow is insufficient to maintain a healthy circulatory system.
One of the first visible signs of insufficiency is varicose veins: engorged, colored protrusions that form primarily on the legs and ankles. If the veins are close to the skin’s surface, they can form slightly raised reddish lines called spider veins, named because they appear like the mesh of a spider’s web.
Any vein in the body can become varicose, but they’re most common on the lower extremities; standing, walking, and the weight of your upper body all put pressure on the lower body’s veins. Varicose veins occur more often in women, especially during and after pregnancy, because of the extra weight they’re carrying.
6 common symptoms of venous insufficiency
Venous insufficiency is a progressive condition, with symptoms getting more advanced the longer it’s left untreated. Symptoms, in order of progression, include:
- Achiness and pain in your legs
- A “heaviness” or fatigue
- Development of new varicose veins
- Flaky, itchy skin
- Swelling (edema) in your legs or ankles
- Discolored, tough skin around your ankles
More than just discomfort, though, CVI can lead to a number of serious health problems, including:
Ulcers, often the last stage of venous insufficiency, occur when pressure from the pooled blood weakens the skin above it, pushing out through a cut and leading to open wounds that are painful, slow to heal, and risk becoming infected.
They most often occur over bony areas, like the ankle, and they can last anywhere from a few weeks to years at a time. About 1% of Americans, mostly women over age 50, develop them.
Ulcers have their own symptoms, including:
- Itchy, burning skin
- A rash or dry skin around it
- Leg swelling
- An oozing, foul-smelling fluid
An ulcer can also become infected and prove difficult to treat. And they’re serious. More than 80% of lower limb amputations in diabetics start with infected foot ulcers.
Since the skin over a varicose vein can thin, your veins are at risk of more damage. Even a minor scratch or bump to the area can rupture the vein, causing significant bleeding.
Small blood clots may develop in veins close to the skin’s surface, leaving the vein swollen and hot, hard, and tender to the touch. You need medical attention to resolve the problem.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
Sluggish blood flow and varicose veins can also lead to large clots in veins deep inside the leg. The long-term complications include pain, swelling, and scaling, or, in severe cases, ulcers. It may also be difficult to walk.
The most problematic complication, though, is if the clot, or a piece of it, breaks off. It can travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, where it may block your airway. This is known as a pulmonary embolism (PE), and it’s life-threatening; you need immediate treatment. It’s one of the reasons why you should always seek medical attention for varicose veins.
If you notice any of the signs of venous insufficiency, you need to come into Comprehensive Vascular Care for an evaluation and treatment to prevent serious complications from developing. And our wound care specialists can help if you’ve already developed venous ulcers.
Call our office at either of our locations, or schedule your consultation online today.