What is venous insufficiency?
Venous insufficiency is a condition marked by the inability of veins in your legs to send blood back to your heart. During normal circulation, arteries carry blood from the heart to the rest of your body and veins carry blood back to the heart. There are special valves in veins designed to prevent back-flow. Venous insufficiency prevents successful transportation of blood back to the heart due to impaired valves or other obstruction preventing proper vein function.
What are the causes of venous insufficiency?
- Varicose veins: In addition to being unsightly, varicose veins either have damaged valves or no valves at all. This prevents blood from successfully traveling to the heart, causing it to instead build up in your legs. Read more about varicose veins here.
- Blood clots: Blood clots, or deep vein thrombosis, can create blockage in the vein, preventing proper blood flow. It can also cause blood to spill over around the valves.
- Personal characteristics: Factors that increase the likelihood of developing venous insufficiency include obesity, height (the taller you are, the greater the risk), inactivity, pregnancy and genetics. The risk is greater if you are female and, as with many conditions, increases with age.
What are the symptoms of venous insufficiency?
Those suffering from venous insufficiency tend to experience general pain and discomfort in the affected area, especially with standing. Specific symptoms include:
- Swelling: The collection of blood in the veins can cause significant swelling, often around the feet and ankles. It can be severe enough to make wearing shoes uncomfortable or even impossible.
- Tingling: The blood pooling in one area can cause the kind of tingling sensation you get when a limb falls asleep. With venous insufficiency, this may be accompanied by itching.
- Cramping: Lack of proper circulation in the legs can cause them to seize up and cramp.
- Skin discoloration: Persistent interruption in blood flow can eventually lead to discoloration due to lack of blood nutrients in the skin.
- Ulcers: Prolonged, severe venous insufficiency can cause ulcers, which can look like sores or legions on the skin. They can open up like wounds if left untreated.
How is venous insufficiency treated?
- Compression stockings: Compression stockings squeeze the veins to coax circulation and stimulate blood flow. A vein specialist can prescribe the stockings, which also help relieve swelling and pain.
- Elevation: Immediate relief is often achieved by elevating legs to a position higher than the head. Sleeping with feet propped up on pillows can help you rest comfortably during the night.
- Exercise: It's important to keep your legs moving. Any activity, even walking or stretching, helps. Avoid sitting or standing for prolonged periods.
- Surgery: In more extreme cases, such as with varicose veins, surgery may be necessary. You should consult with a vein specialist to find out if surgery is right for you.
How can venous insufficiency be prevented?
The best way to prevent venous insufficiency is though exercise and a healthy lifestyle. Physical fitness improves circulation and prevents obesity, one of the risk factors. Healthy lifestyle also means no smoking. If you have a desk job that requires prolonged sitting, get up and stretch or walk around at intervals. This will both break the monotony and keep your circulation intact.