The veins in your legs move blood from your legs back to your heart and contain one-way valves that keep blood from flowing backward. If you have chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), those valves don’t work, causing blood to pool in your legs and pressure to build on the walls of the veins.

CVI is fairly common, affecting up to 40 percent of Americans. It is more common in women, especially after multiple pregnancies, and in people who are middle aged and older. Although CVI can be painful and disabling, it not a serious health threat.

Symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency

Symptoms of CVI may include:

  • Pain, swelling, numbness or heaviness in the legs
  • Leathery looking skin on legs
  • Itching or irritated rash on the legs
  • Varicose veins (twisted, enlarged veins close to the skin)
  • Painful leg cramps or muscle spasms
  • Ulcers on the legs

Causes and risk factors for chronic venous insufficiency

You are more likely to suffer from CVI if you:

  • Are overweight
  • Are female
  • Are pregnant (or have been pregnant)
  • Have a family history of the condition
  • Have damaged your leg due to injury, surgery or previous blood clots
  • Have high blood pressure in the legs, due to sitting or standing for long periods
  • Lack exercise
  • Smoke
  • Have a blood clot in a deep vein in the leg (deep vein thrombosis)
  • Have an urge to move your legs (restless leg syndrome)
  • Experience swelling and inflammation of a vein close to the skin, often in the legs (phlebitis)

Diagnosing chronic venous insufficiency

If you are suspected of having CVI, your physician will ask about your symptoms and medical history and will perform a physical examination. In addition, your physician may order one or more diagnostic tests:

  • Vascular or duplex ultrasound – painless, noninvasive evaluation of blood flow through your arteries and veins
  • X-ray or CT scan

Treating chronic venous insufficiency

If you are diagnosed with CVI, your physician will create a plan of care for you based on a number of factors, including your age and symptoms, which may include one or more of the following:

  • Methods or devices to improve blood flow in your legs - elevation, compression socks and/or exercises
  • Medications to increase blood flow
  • Endovenous laser ablation or radiofrequency ablation (RFA) – minimally invasive procedures to close the vein and improve blood flow
  • Sclerotherapy – injection of a chemical into affected veins that causes scarring in those veins, causing blood to reroute through other veins
  • Surgery (relatively rare) – to tie off, repair, transplant or bypass an affected vein

Managing risk for chronic venous insufficiency

The best way to avoid CVI is to stay healthy:

  • Reach and maintain a normal weight
  • Get regular exercise
  • Wear compression garments
  • Take care of your skin
  • Take prescribed medications

Heart and vascular specialists

The experienced heart specialists at Houston Heart are experts at diagnosing and treating all types of heart and vascular disease.

To learn more, schedule an appointment.