Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) is a circulatory system condition that affects the veins in your legs. It’s estimated that up to 40% of US adults suffer from some form of CVI.
At Comprehensive Vascular Care in Southfield and Novi, Michigan, our team of board-certified vascular, vein, and wound care specialists uses advanced tools and techniques to diagnose and treat venous insufficiency, and they take a personalized approach with their patients. Since early diagnosis and treatment can prevent serious health complications, they want you to become knowledgeable about the signs and symptoms so you can get help when you need it. Here’s what you need to know.
Venous insufficiency basics
Your circulatory system contains arteries and veins. The arteries carry oxygenated blood from your heart to your body’s tissues, while the veins return deoxygenated blood back to the heart. Since blood going back to the heart has to overcome the pull of gravity, your body has two mechanisms in place to help. First, the calf muscles contract to push the blood forward. And second, the veins contain a series of one-way valves that snap shut once the blood passes, preventing it from moving backwards.
The valves, though, can become damaged, either from an injury or from the pressure of the blood against the vessel walls, say from high blood pressure. If they’re damaged, they fail to close completely, allowing the blood to flow backward, where it pools around the valve. This condition is termed venous insufficiency.
One of the main effects of CVI is varicose veins: engorged, colored, ropy protrusions primarily on the legs and ankles. If the veins are superficial (close to the skin’s surface), they may form slightly raised reddish lines called spider veins.
Any vein in the body can become a varicose vein, but they’re most commonly found in the legs and feet — and especially in the calves — because standing, walking, and your body’s own weight all put pressure on the veins in the lower body. It’s no surprise, therefore, that varicose veins are more common in women, especially during and after pregnancy, when they’re carrying additional weight.
While spider veins can cause some discomfort, most of the time they’re painless and are more of a cosmetic issue than a medical one.
Depending on the severity of varicose veins, they may cause:
- Flaky skin
- Swelling in the legs and ankles
- A “heaviness” in the legs
- Darkened, tough skin around your ankles
More than just discomfort, though, CVI and varicose veins can also lead to a number of serious health problems, including:
Ulcers occur when the pressure from the pooled blood weakens the skin and pushes out through a cut, leading to open wounds that are painful, heal slowly, and risk becoming infected.
They often occur over bony areas, like your ankle, and they can last anywhere from a few weeks to years. About 1% of Americans develop them, mostly women over age 50.
Ulcers have their own symptoms, including:
- Itchy, burning skin
- Swelling in leg
- A rash or dry skin
- An oozing, foul-smelling fluid
An ulcer can also become infected and prove hard to treat.
Because the skin over a varicose vein may become thin, your veins are at risk for additional damage. A scratch or a bump to that area can cause a rupture with significant bleeding.
If small blood clots develop in veins close to the skin’s surface, the vein may be swollen and feel hot, hard, and tender to the touch. The condition requires medical attention.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
If you develop large clots in deep veins, long-term complications include pain, swelling, and in severe cases, scaling or ulcers. In some cases, the symptoms are so severe that the person becomes disabled.
The most serious complication, though, is if the clot, or a piece of it, breaks off and travels to the lungs. There it can cause a pulmonary embolism (PE), a life-threatening emergency. As a result, you should always seek medical attention for your varicose veins.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms we mentioned, you need to get them checked out to prevent more serious complications. Comprehensive Vascular Care PC offers the expertise to accurately diagnose and treat your condition and get you back on your feet. We also provide wound care if you’re dealing with ulcers.
Give our office a call at either of our locations, or schedule your consultation online. We’re here to help.