Chronic Venous Insufficiency, also known as CVI, occurs in the leg. If the veins contain valves that are not working fully, blood can “pool” in the veins. Also, the blood will not be as quickly returned to the heart to be reoxygenated. Some estimates are that up to 40% of the population suffer from this condition at some point in their lifetime.
What Causes Chronic Venous Insufficiency?
If your leg has been subjected to an injury, or if you have had a surgery that affected your leg, or if you have experienced previous blood clots, you may be more likely to experience chronic venous insufficiency. Also, if your job has you sitting or standing for extended time periods, especially combined with a condition like high blood pressure, you may have extra stress on your veins and experience CVI. Other causes may be:
- Lack of exercise
- A blood clot in a deep vein, often in the calf or thigh (deep vein thrombosis, also known as a DVT)
- A vein that is swollen and inflamed (phlebitis)
Risk Factors for Chronic Venous Insufficiency
Certain conditions may increase the likelihood of developing CVI:
- Being overweight
- Pregnancy (especially multiple pregnancies)
- Genetics - a family history of the problem
- Age (middle-aged and older)
You may find symptoms including pain, swelling, a feeling of heaviness in the legs, and the visible presence of varicose veins. In some cases, the skin will become discolored, for example, looking brown on a fair-skinned person. Some people may even experience an ulcer, or open sore, more toward the ankle, and this needs immediate attention, as these can be very hard to treat.
How Is Chronic Venous Insufficiency Treated?
Elevating the leg when possible is often recommended, especially during times when the symptoms are especially uncomfortable. If applicable, weight loss may help reduce the pressure on these veins. Exercise is also beneficial where there has been a lack thereof. Sometimes surgeries are necessary, but rarely.
Calf compression sleeves or compression socks can be worn to increase blood flow, reduce swelling and pain, and reduce the chances of the blood pooling. Your doctor may recommend a sock that exerts a certain amount of pressure – depending on the amount, these may be available online, or by prescription only.
The design of calf compression sleeves is that of a graduated compression – tighter at the bottom than at the top. That is, the calf compression sleeves put pressure on the leg from the ankle to the thigh (compression socks start at the foot).
This pressure aids in the movement of the blood up the leg, and through the veins’ system of valves, preventing pooling and overall allowing the blood to return back to the heart more quickly. So, calf compression sleeves and socks help the blood that has been deoxygenated flow back up to the heart faster (this is also known as venous return) and become oxygenated once again.
Wearing compression socks has been shown in studies to increase this blood flow up to 40% more, which means wearing them consistently has a significant positive impact. With the increased blood flow comes the control of swelling, pain, and inflammation, as well.
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