Learning About Venous Insufficiency

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Leg veins, with detail of healthy vein and valve and of damaged vein that allows blood to leak backward

What is it?

Venous insufficiency is a problem with the flow of blood from the veins of the legs back to the heart. It's also called chronic venous insufficiency or chronic venous stasis.

Your veins bring blood back to the heart after it flows through your body. Veins have valves that keep the blood moving in one direction—toward the heart. But with venous insufficiency, the veins of the legs might not work as they should. This can allow blood to leak backward. Fluid can pool in the legs. This can lead to problems that include varicose veins.

What causes it?

Venous insufficiency is sometimes caused by deep vein thrombosis and high blood pressure inside leg veins. People who are pregnant, older, overweight, or have a family history of varicose veins are more likely to get it. So are people who smoke or stand for long periods of time.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of venous insufficiency affect the legs. Symptoms may include swelling (often in the ankles), cramping, aching, a heavy feeling in the legs, or varicose veins. You may also have skin problems like itching, sores, or changes in skin color.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose venous insufficiency by examining your legs and by using a type of ultrasound test (duplex Doppler) to find out how well blood is flowing in your legs.

How is it treated?

Your doctor may recommend wearing compression stockings to help relieve symptoms. Your doctor may also suggest other steps to try at home, such as getting regular exercise. Medicine or a procedure can also be treatment options. Procedures can close the vein, remove the vein, or improve blood flow.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Home care may help relieve your symptoms and improve blood flow. For example, wear compression stockings. Get regular exercise. Stay at a healthy weight. Avoid long periods of standing or sitting. Do not sit with your legs crossed at the knee. Prop up your legs above the level of your heart when lying down.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.