Circulatory disorders can affect any part of the body. However, the legs are more vulnerable to leg venous insufficiency disorders due to the size of our lower limbs and the number of veins they contain. What are the symptoms of venous insufficiency, also known as venous stasis? Is chronic venous insufficiency a disability? In this article, you’ll learn more about chronic venous insufficiency and the treatments available to curb its effects.
What is leg venous insufficiency?
The veins contain small valves; they maintain good blood circulation from the limbs to the heart. When these valves are no longer able to perform their function, blood accumulates: this is called leg venous insufficiency. Since blood flow is reduced, the heart has to work harder to pump it. Pressure increases in the arteries and veins, leading to high blood pressure or sometimes damage to the veins. Over time, hypertension weakens this entire system, putting a person at risk for serious diseases, such as thrombosis, a pulmonary embolism and, in extreme cases, cardiovascular disease. Leg venous insufficiency disorders of the legs affect the superficial veins close to the skin’s surface and the deeper ones that send blood to the muscles.
Chronic venous insufficiency disorders are a common ailment. In Canada, varicose veins affect approximately 15% of women and 18% of men. In addition, it is estimated that about one in four deaths in Canada is related to thrombosis, which is the formation of a blood clot that circulates to vital organs. Age contributes to this venous stasis: the risk is most significant for people 50 and over.
In an advanced stage, leg venous insufficiency disorders of the legs can be very disabling for the patient and considerably reduce their quality of life. Venous insufficiency symptoms are characterized by pain in the legs and brownish discoloration of the skin where the blood vessels are damaged. A person may also develop venous stasis ulcers, i.e. open wounds caused by blood stagnation. The risk of injury is considerably increased in these areas of the skin. A healthcare professional must treat these wounds to avoid infection and recurrence.
Different causes of venous insufficiency disorders of the legs
Venous insufficiency disorders of the legs may result from a congenital condition (for example, if you have a malformation of the veins). It is also possible that these problems occur after a thrombosis has occurred. This is because the vein dilates due to stagnant blood, affecting the valves that must ensure venous return.
Circulatory problems affect sedentary and overweight people and older people with reduced mobility. Occupations that limit movement and require standing or sitting for long periods, a poor diet, smoking, or frequent wearing of high heels are all factors that can lead to venous insufficiency.
Incorporating physical activity into your daily routine, even if it is only light, such as walking, is advisable to reduce your risk. Pay attention to your diet to maintain a healthy weight and preserve the structure of your veins.
Symptoms of venous insufficiency disorders
Leg venous insufficiency disorders can start without causing discomfort, making them so difficult to detect. Visible symptoms that can be felt indicate that it is time to seek help. These signs include a feeling of heaviness in the legs, pain when walking, or tingling in the feet and legs. You may also experience restless leg syndrome (the uncontrollable urge to move your legs) and cramps.
As the disease progresses, the blood vessels under the skin become more visible. Varicose veins may appear, and your feet or legs may swell. This is when edema occurs due to an abnormal presence of interstitial fluid. This fluid is plasma (the liquid part of the blood, which ensures exchanges between the blood and the cells), which stagnates in the tissues that support the organs. In more advanced stages of venous insufficiency, the skin changes colour and may turn brown or red. The affected area may be itchy. Ulcers may form. These are usually only superficial but can reach deep tissue and tendons in more severe cases.
How chiropodists diagnose leg venous insufficiency
To diagnose leg venous insufficiency, it is recommended to consult a chiropodist. A physical exam may be necessary, including an ultrasound or Doppler echocardiography. This digital imaging technique allows you to visualize the state of the veins and blood flow. It is a non-invasive and painless technique performed by a medical imaging technologist. To make an accurate diagnosis and rule out other possible causes of circulatory problems, it is essential to have a yearly health check-up.
Solutions and treatments offered by chiropodists for leg venous insufficiency symptoms
It is important to know that the treatments offered by the chiropodist will relieve the symptoms of venous insufficiency. You will probably be advised to consider other actions to improve your overall health. To facilitate your blood circulation, compression stockings can be a good solution. There are several varieties, from sports socks to thigh-high stockings. These socks work by putting pressure on the foot and leg areas to promote blood flow and reduce swelling in the foot and ankle. Some socks may not be suitable for people with arterial problems. Your chiropodist will be able to prescribe and provide you with the compression stockings best suited to your condition. For this treatment to be effective, you must not only adopt a healthy lifestyle and wear compression stockings daily for long periods, which can be months or years.
Intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) is a way to reduce the risk of blood clots. The patient places their leg in a pneumatic bag that inflates and deflates intermittently to stimulate blood flow. This method is known to promote the healing of ulcers. Ulcers can also be treated with special pressure bandages. If the wound is infected, the patient can be treated with antibiotics.
To thin the blood and prevent phlebitis, doctors can also prescribe so-called blood thinner drugs to thin the blood and prevent phlebitis. These do not relieve pain, so they can be supplemented with analgesics. If the veins affected by venous insufficiency are visible and painful, sclerotherapy performed by a specialized doctor will make them disappear. This aesthetic method involves injecting a solution into the veins to stop blood flow. The vein fades in a few weeks. As a last resort, your healthcare professional may resort to surgery via a specialized surgeon for the most serious cases. Stripping allows the removal of the vein’s segment that contains the clot. Severe cases not affected by initial medication and treatments may require the replacement of the vein with a second, healthy one. In this situation, the healthcare professional takes a healthy vein and removes the diseased segment to perform the graft.
Although these methods provide relief to the patient, they do not prevent the recurrence of the condition. To prevent leg venous insufficiency, it is necessary to make changes to your lifestyle.
How to prevent leg venous insufficiency disorders
When it is unrelated to a hereditary condition, your veins and blood circulation health depend directly on your healthy living habits. To prevent venous insufficiency disorders, daily activity is recommended. Whether it is walking, cycling or any other sport, the key is introducing movement. A diet rich in salt and processed products excess and smoking increases the risk of venous insufficiency. Finally, wearing adapted shoes can relieve heavy, tired or swollen legs. The chiropodist can advise you on choosing orthopedic sports, casual or work shoes.
Performing a podiatric assessment in a FootNetwork clinic
Although leg venous insufficiency disorders are a specific problem, their symptoms can sometimes be confused with other ailments related to foot health. A podiatric exam and recommendations from our chiropodists can help you take the necessary steps to prevent your venous insufficiency symptoms from worsening. Contact us to schedule an appointment at the clinic nearest you