Rethinking Varicose Veins

Many people consider varicose veins to be simply a cosmetic issue, so they delay treatment or avoid it completely. The truth is, untreated varicose veins can progress to a more serious form of vein (venous) disease called chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), which can present more serious signs and symptoms of venous reflux disease.

Healthy leg veins contain valves that open and close to assist the return of blood back to the heart. Venous reflux disease develops when the valves that keep blood flowing out of the legs and back to the heart become damaged or diseased. As a result, vein valves will not close properly, leading to symptoms of:

  • Varicose veins
  • Pain
  • Swollen limbs
  • Leg heaviness and fatigue
  • Skin changes and skin ulcers
  • Tight feeling calves or itchy painful legs
  • Pain during walking that stops with rest
  • Brown-colored skin, particularly near the ankles

CVI occurs when the leg veins do not allow blood to travel back to the heart. Problems with valves in the veins can cause the blood to flow both directions, not just toward the heart. These valves that are not working properly can cause blood in the legs to pool. If chronic venous insufficiency is left untreated, pain, swelling, and leg ulcers may result.

CVI does not pose a serious health threat, but the condition can be disabling and cause pain. It is more common among those who are obese, pregnant, or who have a family history of the problem. Individuals who have had trauma to the leg through injury, surgery, or previous blood clots are also more likely to develop the condition.

Other causes of CVI include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • High blood pressure in the leg veins over a long time, due to sitting or standing for prolonged periods
  • Lack of exercise
  • Smoking
  • Deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot in a deep vein, usually in the calf or thigh)
  • Phlebitis (swelling and inflammation of a superficial vein, usually in the legs)

Specific treatment will be determined by your doctor based on a number of factors, including:

  • Your age, overall health and medical history
  • Extent of the disease
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Your signs and symptoms
  • Expectations for the course of the disease

The symptoms of CVI may resemble other conditions. You should consult your doctor for a diagnosis. You do not need to live with CVI or its symptoms.

Symptoms can worsen over time if left untreated and cause serious health problems. Fortunately, several minimally-invasive treatment options are available that are covered by many insurance plans, such as the VNUS Closure® procedure available through Fort HealthCare Surgical Associates. Visit FortHealthCare.com/VNUS to learn more, and link to the self-assessment tool available there.

Bill Kontny, MD

About Bill Kontny, MD

General and Laparoscopic Surgeon

Education
Medical School of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Residency
Loyola University, Chicago

Board Certification
American Board of Surgery
Fellow American College of Surgeons
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