If you’ve been diagnosed with chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), it’s only natural to wonder how serious it is and whether there’s anything that can be done about it. The good news is that this common vascular condition is not life-threatening. However, it can lead to significant pain and discomfort if left untreated.
How serious is chronic venous insufficiency?
Chronic venous insufficiency is a medical condition that fundamentally alters the integrity of your leg veins. In a healthy circulatory system, a network of one-way valves plays a crucial role in transporting blood from the lower extremities back to the heart. These valves open to allow blood to flow upward, then close to prevent backflow. However, when you have CVI, these valves become weak or damaged (due to age, injury, or genetics) resulting in blood being pulled down by gravity and pooling in your leg. Excess blood leads to elevated pressure inside the veins which harms not only the blood vessels themselves but surrounding tissue.
How serious CVI can become varies from person to person. Some may experience only mild discomfort, while others struggle with aching, itching, leg fatigue, swelling, and skin changes. The longer CVI goes untreated, the more likely you are to experience problems.
What does chronic venous insufficiency lead to?
Chronic venous insufficiency can lead to several complications, including:
- Varicose Veins: The most common sign that you have CVI is the appearance of enlarged, twisted veins that are often dark purple or blue. Varicose veins aren’t just a cosmetic concern. They can cause significant discomfort.
- Edema: Edema is the accumulation of fluid in the affected leg, leading to swelling. This can make it difficult to move and can be quite painful.
- Skin Changes: CVI can cause skin discoloration, usually around the ankles. The skin may become reddish-brown and can be itchy or flaky.
- Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): While rare, CVI can increase the risk of DVT, a condition in which a blood clot forms in the deep veins of your leg. DVT is a serious condition that can lead to a life-threatening pulmonary embolism if the clot breaks free and travels to your lungs.
What is the most serious complication?
Chronic venous insufficiency can lead to the development of leg ulcers. These slow-healing, open sores can be painful, challenging to treat, and recurrent. They also increase your risk of infection and require specialized wound care. Leg ulcers significantly impact your quality of life, but are preventable with early treatment of CVI.
Can you live a normal life with CVI?
Yes, living with CVI is possible, but comes with daily challenges. Symptoms such as swelling, leg heaviness, and pain often get better overnight (when legs are elevated) and then worsen throughout the day. This can be especially problematic if you have a job that requires prolonged sitting or standing.
Beyond the physical symptoms, CVI can have a psychological impact. You may find yourself feeling self-conscious about visible varicose veins or skin changes. Moreover, the discomfort and pain associated with CVI may limit your ability to engage in activities you otherwise enjoy.
Compression stockings, leg elevation, regular exercise, and weight management can all help improve blood circulation and reduce your discomfort. However, as a chronic condition, CVI typically gets worse over time. It’s best to work with your healthcare provider to address the condition early on.
What are the red flags for venous insufficiency?
Recognizing the signs of CVI early will result in more effective treatment and less disruption to your life. Some red flags include:Visible varicose veins.
- Swelling in the legs and ankles.
- Aching or cramping in the legs.
- Heaviness or fatigue in the legs.
- Skin changes, such as discoloration.
What is the best treatment for chronic venous insufficiency?
The gold standard for treating CVI is minimally invasive venous closure. This outpatient procedure accesses and treats the affected veins from the inside, redirecting blood flow to healthier veins and effectively relieving your CVI symptoms. This treatment has a high success rate, leaves little to no scarring, has a short recovery period, and there’s a low risk of complications. Plus it is covered by all major insurers.
Although CVI isn’t life-threatening, its impact on your life can be substantial. Don’t ignore early symptoms. Seek treatment from a vein specialist who can provide you with welcome relief.