Venous insufficiency

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If you have dull, aching, or cramping pain in your legs, and pain that gets worse when you stand, you may have a condition called venous insufficiency.

In venous insufficiency, the veins in your legs have trouble sending blood back to your heart. Normally, valves in your legs keep your blood flowing back towards your heart so it doesn't collect in one place. But the valves in varicose veins are either damaged or missing. This causes your veins to remain filled with blood, especially when you're standing. A blockage in your vein from a blood clot, called a deep venous thrombosis, can also cause this problem.

So, how do you know if you have venous insufficiency?

Well, you'll probably feel a dull aching, heaviness, or cramping in your legs. Your legs will swell up when you're on them too long. Your legs may itch or tingle. Pain will get worse when you stand, and better when you raise your legs. Your legs and ankles may also be red. You may notice skin color changes around your ankles. You may see varicose veins on the surface of your legs. You may feel thickening and hardening of the skin on your legs and ankles.

So, what can you do about venous insufficiency?

Well, your doctor will tell you to use compression stockings to decrease the swelling in your legs. You'll probably have to avoid long periods of sitting or standing. Even moving your legs slightly will help the blood in your veins return to your heart. Walking helps in that same way.

Your doctor may recommend surgery or other treatments for varicose veins if you've tried everything and you still have leg pain that feels heavy or tired, skin ulcers or sores caused by poor blood flow.

If blood clots are causing you problems, your doctor may prescribe anticoagulant or blood-thinning medicines, to treat existing blood clots and prevent others.

Your doctor may suggest you try to keep your legs elevated above your heart when you lie down. You may improve your circulation through exercise. And finally, if you need to lose weight, weight loss can be a very helpful treatment of venous insufficiency and swelling.

Venous insufficiency

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 2/19/2016
  • Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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