Sometimes patients with a vague ache in a leg assume that the discomfort is due to their weekend warrior exploits.  In fact, they might be suffering from a chronic and progressive condition known as venous insufficiency.  Learning about this disorder is the key to managing it.

Causes, Symptoms, and Risk Factors

The mission of veins is transporting blood from the limbs and internal organs to the heart.  When blood flow through these vessels becomes impaired, insufficiency occurs, according to MedlinePlus.  This can eventually progress to the development of spider or varicose veins.  However, vein doctors, also called vascular surgeons, sometimes treat patients who are unaware that they have this vein disease because of the absence of spider or varicose veins.

A number of factors are potential causes of chronic insufficiency in veins.  The University of Chicago Medicine reports that the most common include:

  • Family history of insufficiency
  • Prior leg trauma from surgery, injury, or blood clots
  • Prolonged high blood pressure in leg veins from extended standing or sitting
  • Insufficient physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Blood clot in a deep leg vein
  • Phlebitis

In leg veins that are no longer healthy, valves malfunction and allow blood to leak backward.  A blood clot can also prevent blood from flowing to the heart.  As blood collects and pools, it causes veins to become distended.  The end result is often spider veins or varicose veins.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, patients seen at a vein clinic typically have one or more of these symptoms:

  • Swelling in the limb
  • Skin ulcers
  • Cramping
  • Discoloration of the skin
  • Veins with a prominent or rope-like appearance
  • Sensations of aching, throbbing, or burning in the foot and leg
  • Weakness in the leg

Vein Treatment Options

This vascular problem tends to worsen over time.  However, various types of varicose vein treatment can help prevent it from worsening if a visit to a vein clinic reveals it at an early stage.  Vein doctors often advise patients to shed any excess weight, get regular physical activity, stop smoking, and avoid extended sitting or standing.  When these self-care steps are not sufficient to stop progression of the disorder, a number of other options are available if the condition becomes severe:

  • Sclerotherapy is a procedure in which a vascular surgeon injects a special chemical into a vein to destroy it.
  • Ablation uses heat to close a vessel, which eventually disappears.
  • Microphlebectomy is a technique utilizing small incisions through which the surgeon removes a damaged vein.
  • Bypass causes blood to change its path and go around an obstructed or damaged vessel.
  • Angioplasty with stenting is a procedure to open a vein using a small balloon, followed by inserting a mesh tube known as a stent to hold the vessel open.

For some patients, radiofrequency ablation or endovenous laser ablation might be appropriate.  Vascular surgeons rarely perform varicose vein stripping.