Venous Insufficiency

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Topic Overview

What is venous insufficiency?

Venous insufficiency is a problem with the flow of blood from the veins of the legs back to the heart. It's also called chronic venous insufficiency or chronic venous stasis.

Veins have valves that keep the blood moving in one direction—toward the heart. In venous insufficiency, the valves in the veins of the leg don't work right. So fluid pools in the legs. This can lead to problems that include varicose veins.

What causes the problem?

Venous insufficiency is sometimes caused by deep vein thrombosis and high blood pressure inside leg veins.

You are more likely to have venous insufficiency if you:

  • Are older.
  • Are female.
  • Are overweight.
  • Don't get enough physical activity.
  • Smoke.
  • Have a family history of varicose veins.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms affect the legs and may include:

  • Swelling, often in the ankles.
  • Varicose veins.
  • Itching.
  • Cramping.
  • Skin sores (ulcers).
  • Aching or a feeling of heaviness.
  • Changes in skin color.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose venous insufficiency by examining your legs and by using a type of ultrasound test (duplex Doppler) to find out how well blood is flowing in your legs.

How is it treated?

You can wear compression stockings, which are tighter at the ankles than at the top of the legs, to reduce swelling and to relieve pain. They also can help venous skin ulcers heal. You can buy the stockings with or without a prescription.

You also can try to:

  • Get more exercise, especially walking. It can increase blood flow.
  • Avoid standing or sitting for a long time, which can make the fluid pool in your legs.
  • Keep your legs raised above your heart when you're lying down. This reduces swelling.

Related Information


Other Works Consulted

  • Raju S, Neglen P (2009). Chronic venous insufficiency and varicose veins. New England Journal of Medicine, 360(22): 2319–2327.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerMargaret Doucette, DO - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Wound Care, Hyperbaric Medicine

Current as ofSeptember 9, 2014