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Chronic Venous Insufficiency

by Jane Meggitt

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Chronic venous insufficiency results when valves are blocked, and blood no longer flows freely from the legs to the heart. That means the heart isn’t receiving the blood it needs for optimal function, and blood is either pooling in the veins or in the legs. Up to 5 percent of the population suffers from chronic venous insufficiency, with women at greater risk.

Risk Factors

A sedentary lifestyle and obesity are two major risk factors for chronic venous insufficiency, as is aging. Women begin developing signs of the condition in their 40s, while in men symptoms may not manifest until their 70s. One reason for the disparity is that childbearing can increase the risk of developing chronic venous insufficiency.

Other risk factors include smoking, genetic predisposition to vein problems, and a history of blood clot development. Anyone who has been diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis is at greater risk of developing chronic venous insufficiency.


If you experience any of the following symptoms, see your doctor. You may be suffering from chronic venous insufficiency. Symptoms in the legs include:

  • Pain – from moderate to intense
  • Frequent itching
  • Swelling or heaviness in the ankles and lower legs
  • Toughened, leathery skin
  • Ulceration

People with chronic venous insufficiency usually have varicose veins, but varicose veins themselves do not automatically mean a person has chronic venous insufficiency.


Diagnosing chronic venous insufficiency begins with providing the doctor with a complete family and personal medical history. The doctor will then conduct an ultrasound of the affected areas. This simple test confirms blood flow speed and direction.


Treatment consists primarily of lifestyle changes. It is crucial to get up and move, such as making walking a part of your daily exercise routine. A doctor can recommend a custom exercise plan for your particular condition. If you are overweight, it is important to stop eating “junk” or highly processed foods and make the switch to a healthy diet. The doctor or a nutritionist can design a dietary plan for your needs.

Patients should wear compression stockings, which aid in proper blood flow and may also ease discomfort or inflammation. Keep your legs elevated whenever possible, such as when watching TV or reading. Avoid sitting or standing for too long. If your job requires a great deal of sitting, take regular breaks just to walk around the office. Keep the skin on your legs clean and use moisturizer to prevent ulceration and infections. If an infection occurs, notify your doctor at once so he or she can prescribe antibiotics.

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