Varicose veins can be an indication of chronic venous insufficiency — but not always. Learn more about CVI and when you should see a doctor.

When it comes to vein health, there are a number of conditions to keep an eye on. Many of these conditions are connected, but the signs are not always easy to interpret. Varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) both impact blood flow in your legs, and they can cause everything from mild pain and discomfort to more serious concerns like leg ulcers and infection. 

Understanding how the two conditions relate — and how they differ — can help you determine when to see a doctor and what treatments might be right for you. 

What Is Chronic Venous Insufficiency?

To stay healthy, veins need to return blood to the heart from all of your body’s organs. In order for blood to reach your heart from your legs, your body has one-way valves that keep the blood from leaking backward and pooling in your legs (known as stasis). 

Chronic venous insufficiency occurs when these one-way valves are damaged, leading to increased pressure on your veins. The condition affects around 40% of people in the United States and it occurs more often in women than men. The symptoms of CVI include:

  • Swelling of the ankles or legs (edema)
  • Leg cramps
  • Aching, throbbing, or a feeling of heaviness in your legs
  • Weak legs
  • Itchy legs
  • Feelings of tightness in your calves
  • Thickening of the skin on your ankles or legs
  • Changes in your skin’s appearance, especially around your ankles

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor. If left untreated, CVI can cause the pressure and swelling in your legs to increase and even lead to burst capillaries. When that happens, the overlying skin will take on a reddish-brown color and become very sensitive to being broken if bumped or scratched.

 At best, burst capillaries can lead to local tissue inflammation and internal tissue damage. At worst, they lead to ulcers, or open sores on the skin surface that can be difficult to heal and leave you vulnerable to infection. 

Are Varicose Veins a Sign of Chronic Venous Insufficiency?

Varicose veins are one of the two main causes of the CVI (the other is blood clots, also known as deep vein thrombosis). Varicose veins appear when blood pools in your legs. The resulting pressure on your veins can stretch the vein itself, weakening the one-way valves designed to keep blood moving to your heart. CVI will not always develop from varicose veins, but it’s important to monitor the condition just in case. 

Keeping Your Veins Healthy

If you have varicose veins or you suspect you might have chronic venous insufficiency, you should see a doctor right away for a diagnosis. If you are at risk, a doctor can help you intervene early and prevent CVI from developing. Or, if you have CVI, they can determine what course of treatment is right for you. 

If you think you might have one or both of these conditions, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with Georgia’s VEINatlanta. Our specialists can help you manage and treat varicose veins, chronic venous insufficiency, and other related conditions. Learn how VEINatlanta can help you start healing and come see us at one of our locations in Sandy Springs, Gwinnett or Camp Creek.