Understanding Chronic Venous Insufficiency

Chronic venous insufficiency is a vascular condition that affects the legs and occurs when vein valves stop working properly and allow blood to flow backwards through your veins and pool. This can create pressure and blockages in your veins and weaken the vein walls.

It's not always clear why chronic venous insufficiency develops, but a family history of vascular conditions, such as deep vein thrombosis and varicose veins, can increase your chance of developing this condition. Being overweight and pregnancy can also put you at risk due to the stress placed on your legs when walking or standing. Here's an overview of the symptoms and treatment options for chronic venous insufficiency:


The following symptoms are commonly seen in those with chronic venous insufficiency:

  • Swelling of the feet and calves
  • Leg pain and cramps
  • Leg ulcers
  • Discolouration that can make legs appear a pale blue

Treatment Options

A vascular surgeon can diagnose chronic venous insufficiency using an ultrasound to assess the condition of the veins in your legs and check blood is flowing in the right direction. Once your doctor determines you have developed this condition, they will outline a treatment approach based on the severity of your symptoms. The aim of treatment is to improve blood flow in the right direction through your veins and bring the swelling down. Treatment can include the following:

  • Elevation and exercise - When you elevate your legs above your heart several times each day, you encourage blood to flow out of your legs, and this can decrease the swelling and pooling of blood within your veins. Targeted calf exercises that cause the muscles to contract can improve circulation by pushing blood out of the legs and towards the heart.
  • Compression stockings - The constant pressure applied to your legs by these custom-fit stockings can prevent blood flowing backwards through your veins and improve circulation. You have to keep these stockings on at all times during the treatment period, which will be determined by your doctor.
  • Hydrocolloid dressings - These breathable dressings contain an alginate, which makes them highly absorbent. They are used when you have leg ulcers and work by drawing out the exudate from the ulcers, which can prevent them becoming infected and encourage the skin to heal.
  • Radiofrequency Vein Ablation - This minimally invasive surgical procedure uses microwave radiation to close off damaged veins. A small catheter is inserted into the veins that are to be sealed, and your surgeon will use the catheter to deliver the radiation to the treatment site. This procedure can be carried out as a day case and typically requires only a few days of recovery time.

Leg ulcers caused by chronic venous insufficiency can lead to you developing cellulitis. Additionally, leg amputation can become necessary if ulcers become infected. So, if you're experiencing any of the symptoms associated with this condition, schedule a consultation with your vascular surgeon.