Chronic Venous Insufficiency or CVI is a progressive medical condition in which the valves that regulate blood flow direction from the legs to the heart no longer function, causing blood to pool in the legs and veins to swell. Healthy leg veins are designed to allow blood to flow against gravity from the legs back toward the heart. Tiny valves inside the veins open and close to help control the flow and pressure. CVI occurs when stresses on the venous system—like pregnancy, age or standing for long periods of time—weaken the vein structure. When the veins become weakened or diseased, vein valves no longer promote efficient blood flow and blood pools in the legs. This impaired blood flow (or reflux) causes veins to expand, lose form and protrude from beneath the skin.
Risk Factors for CVI
While CVI can affect anyone, gender and age are large factors that may increase your risk for developing the disease. For example, women older than 50 are more likely than others to develop venous disease that can lead to CVI. The disease can affect several members of the same family. Additionally, the following factors may increase your risk for developing varicose veins that can sometimes progress into CVI:
- Lack of exercise
- Lifestyle that requires standing for long periods of time
- Excess weight
- Current or previous pregnancies
CVI is Preventable
For mild forms of venous disease, lifestyle changes may be recommended to control existing symptoms and prevent others. The following measures may help control varicose veins and CVI.
Changes in lifestyle are the first line of defense. As outlined in the list above, lack of exercise and being overweight increase the risk of CVI so maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise are crucial steps in maintaining the health of your legs.
Additionally, standing for too long also increases the risk; if at all possible, find ways to break up long periods of standing with sitting breaks, as well as keeping your legs moving; keeping them in a single position, especially locked, for too long can be harmful over time.
All varicose veins have the potential to progress to become CVI, but not all varicose veins result in CVI. Many physicians discourage treatment when vein stripping was the only option available. However, with minimally-invasive procedures currently available, anyone with varicose veins should consult a vein specialist to receive proper diagnosis.
Help is Available
If you or someone you know appears to have varicose veins or is at rick for CVI, rest assured that help is available. Because varicose veins and CVI present recognizable signs and symptoms and can be triggered by lifestyle and genetic factors, you can be informed yourself and spread the word to those who might be at risk.