Everyone has swollen legs and feet now and then, but if you’re experiencing this discomfort regularly, you may have a medical issue that needs attention. Experts estimate that some 40% of Americans have chronic venous insufficiency, or CVI. Without treatment, it can lead to complications.
Dr. MuthU Velusamy at Cardiovascular Institute of America treats patients in Tampa and Lutz, Florida, with a variety of vascular issues such as CVI and a similar problem called peripheral artery disease (PAD) and varicose veins. In this post, we discuss CVI, who is at risk of developing it, the symptoms to watch for, and your treatment options.
What is chronic venous insufficiency?
The two main types of blood vessels are arteries and veins. As you might expect, your veins are affected by CVI. Your veins carry blood back to your heart and lungs, where it’s oxygenated, then your arteries carry it back to the rest of your body.
Gravity applies to your blood just as it does everything else, so to prevent your blood from running backward between heartbeats, your veins are lined with valves that open and close. Those valves keep your blood moving in the correct direction.
When the valves in your veins malfunction, the blood pools around them. Valve damage can happen in any of your veins, but your legs are the most susceptible to the problem — largely because of gravity.
Risk factors for CVI
Two of the risk factors for CVI are age and sex. Women are more likely to develop it than men, and your risk rises as you get older.
Other risk factors include:
- Sitting or standing for long periods
- Having a family history of CVI
- Weight challenges
- High blood pressure
- Having varicose veins
- A sedentary lifestyle
These are just some of the risk factors for CVI.
Symptoms of CVI
Early on, the main symptom of CVI is a feeling of achiness or heaviness in your legs and mild swelling in your ankles. Many people don’t even notice these early signs because it’s not unusual to have slightly swollen ankles on occasion.
However, if you notice swollen ankles and achy legs regularly, or even if you haven’t been standing for a long period, you should seek a medical opinion. Over time, your symptoms are likely to worsen.
Additional symptoms you may notice include:
- Swelling in your lower legs and ankles
- Aching legs
- Tired-feeling legs
- An itchy sensation
- Dry skin
- Varicose veins
- Sores or ulcers that don’t heal properly
- Restless legs
If you don’t get treatment for CVI, the pressure from the blood pooling around your valves causes the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) in your legs to burst. That can make your skin turn a reddish-brown color and become more fragile. The fragile skin is more prone to tearing, leading to wounds or ulcers that don’t heal well because of poor blood circulation.
Treatments for CVI
The best treatment for you depends on several factors, such as how far your CVI has progressed, your overall health, and the symptoms that you’re experiencing. Some of the treatments that Dr. Velusamy may suggest include:
Changing your habits is necessary regardless of other treatments. For example, you may need to avoid either standing or sitting for too long or add exercise to your routine. You may also benefit from weight loss.
You may find that wearing compression socks and elevating your legs when possible are good ways to improve your blood circulation and lessen the severity of your CVI symptoms.
Dr. Velusamy may recommend medications to improve your blood flow, reduce the likelihood of developing a blood clot, or heal ulcers.
Sclerotherapy involves injecting a specialized solution into your damaged vein that causes it to collapse. Your blood then reroutes to an undamaged vessel.
Another treatment is endovenous thermal ablation which works similarly, except we seal the vein using a high-frequency laser or radio frequency waves.
In advanced or severe cases of CVI, Dr. Velusamy may suggest a surgical procedure to improve your circulation.
You don’t have to live with aching, swollen legs. Schedule an appointment at either of our convenient locations and talk to Dr. Velusamy about your symptoms.