Chronic venous insufficiency isn’t a hot topic of conversation, so you may not be familiar with this vein disease. But it affects 40% of all adults and at a younger age than you might imagine, as it’s most often diagnosed in women between the ages of 40-49 years. Men develop the condition too, but their risk is significantly lower compared to women.
At Vein Health Clinics, we’re concerned about finding chronic venous insufficiency as early as possible so we can help you prevent complications. Armed with this list of warning signs, you’ll know how to spot the problem.
Why you should know the early signs of chronic venous insufficiency
Chronic venous insufficiency occurs when valves in your leg veins fail to work properly. Your leg veins have the difficult task of carrying blood up your legs. To do the job, they need help from muscle movements that push the blood along and one-way valves that open to let blood go up your leg, then quickly close so it can’t go backwards.
When a valve doesn’t work, blood flows down the vein, stopping at the next healthy valve. As blood accumulates between the valves, pressure in the vein increases. This high venous pressure can make more valves weaken and malfunction.
Why you should be on the watch for early signs of chronic venous insufficiency
Watching for early signs can help to prevent problems such as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), venous stasis ulcers, or a progression of the disease.
Deep vein thrombosis
Chronic venous insufficiency may be a sign that you have a blood clot deep in your leg, a condition called a DVT. When pieces of the clot break free and travel to your lungs, you can develop a life-threatening pulmonary embolism.
Venous stasis ulcer
Ongoing high venous pressure forces fluids out of the veins into the surrounding tissues. Over time, your skin breaks down and you develop an ulcer called a venous stasis ulcer. These ulcers are very hard to heal and can become debilitating.
Chronic venous insufficiency doesn’t go away or heal on its own. When it goes untreated, your symptoms get progressively worse, and it becomes more difficult to treat.
Early signs of chronic venous insufficiency
Being aware of the symptoms to look for can help you catch chronic venous insufficiency when it’s most treatable. These are the warning signs of chronic venous insufficiency:
1. Varicose veins
Even if your varicose veins don’t cause any symptoms, they’re a sign that you have venous hypertension and chronic venous insufficiency. Additionally, your risk of deep vein thrombosis is three times higher compared to people who don’t have varicose veins.
2. Leg pain and other sensations
Leg pain that gets worse when you stand still for an extended time, then feels better when you elevate your leg, is a characteristic symptom of chronic venous insufficiency. If you notice this type of pain, it’s a sign you should come in for an evaluation of your leg veins.
Beyond pain, it’s also common to feel unusual leg sensations like tingling, burning, and itching. Your leg may also feel like it’s heavier than normal.
3. Swelling in your lower leg
As pressure increases, you may develop swelling in your lower leg, ankle, and/or foot. This type of swelling often increases throughout the day. If you gently press on the swollen area, an indentation or pit remains.
4. Changes in your skin
Changes in your skin don’t appear as early as the other signs in this list. Once you notice any of these three changes, it’s more important to come in for an exam because they’re signs your chronic venous insufficiency is well-established and leading to severe complications.
High venous pressure makes the veins in your lower leg dilate. As a result, red blood cells leave the veins and break down, causing a dark brown discoloration in your skin. Chronic inflammation in your lower leg leads to venous dermatitis or eczema that may be dry and scaly or form small vesicles that ooze. Additionally, scarring in the skin and underlying tissues gives your skin a leathery appearance.