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What Are the Symptoms of Venous Insufficiency?

By Roberto Blizzard

Venous insufficiency--usually referred to as chronic venous insufficiency--involves inadequate return of blood from the legs to the heart. When the one-way valves in one or more veins in the leg do not function properly, blood pools in the leg, explains the Oregon Heart & Vascular Institute. The condition may be inherited, but factors including advanced age, inactivity and obesity can contribute to the development of problems with the venous valves and to chronic venous insufficiency. In some cases, those with venous insufficiency do not have any symptoms, but in other cases symptoms can affect a patient's level of physical activity and her quality of life.

Swelling and Leaking

The first symptoms of venous insufficiency occur in the ankles and legs, notes the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Those body parts become swollen as the pooled blood in the veins of the leg exerts higher than normal pressure on the veins. The legs may feel full or heavy, and those feeling may increase with walking or standing, notes the Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. The increasing pressure and swelling can cause the leakage of pale yellow fluid from the skin. That fluid, known as plasma, comes from the blood.


Symptoms of venous insufficiency include pain in the legs. Pain symptoms may range from aches to cramps to burning sensations, notes Professor Andrew Nicolaides of the Imperial College School of Medicine, in a November 2000 consensus statement published in "Circulation." Nicolaides notes that symptoms may include itching and restless leg syndrome. That disorder involves a compulsion to move one's legs, often accompanied by crawling sensations in the legs, explains the Merck Manual.

Skin Discoloration and Ulcers

In patients suffering from venous insufficiency, the mounting pressure in the veins and capillaries can lead to symptoms that involve changes in the appearance of the skin. The pressure can cause the capillaries to burst and release red blood cells into the area just beneath the skin. That can cause the skin to become reddish or brownish. Those areas of skin become susceptible to breaks or ruptures, if bumped or scratched. That can lead to a symptom known as venous stasis ulcers, explains the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. If those leg ulcers become infected, they emit pus and a bad smell, and if the infection spreads to adjacent areas, it can cause cellulitis. Symptoms of venous insufficiency may also include flaking skin and skin that becomes leathery in appearance and texture.

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