A Patient's Guide to Superficial Venous Insufficiency

Superficial venous insufficiency is a type of vein disease that affects blood flow in the veins near the surface of the leg, as opposed to the ones that run deeper. Diagnosing this condition is not always easy. Other conditions may have similar symptoms. You can also have other medical problems alongside vein disease. So if you have any symptoms of superficial venous insufficiency, see a vein specialist for proper evaluation, diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms of Superficial Venous Insufficiency

Superficial venous insufficiency develops slowly, often over years. The early symptoms tend to be vague. As a result, people with this condition may dismiss symptoms as a sign of growing older or another health problem like diabetes.

Depending on which veins are affected, symptoms can occur anywhere in the lower legs. Common symptoms in the leg include:

  • Heaviness, aching or cramping
  • Itching
  • Swelling in the leg, ankle or foot
  • Leg fatigue
  • Restless legs

Some people with superficial venous insufficiency develop varicose veins or spider veins. However, these may not always be visible due to the thickness or color of your skin, or the amount of fat under the skin.

If this condition is left untreated, your symptoms can worsen. You may also develop complications such as:

  • Thick, leathery skin
  • Brown discoloration of the skin (hyperpigmentation)
  • Open sores (ulcers), even without injury

How the disease progresses varies from person to person. You may experience pain for years with few visible symptoms of the condition. Or you may develop more severe complications such as ulcers after only a short time.

Causes of Superficial Venous Insufficiency

Superficial venous insufficiency is caused when the valves or walls of the veins don’t work properly. This allows blood to collect in the veins, which causes them to swell. Over time, the increased pressure of the extra blood can cause the symptoms of this condition.

Like other vein diseases, superficial venous insufficiency is often a hereditary condition. This means that if your parents had this condition, you are more likely to develop it.

There are, however, several factors that increase your risk of developing superficial venous insufficiency, such as:

  • Sitting or standing still for long periods
  • Older age
  • Having multiple pregnancies
  • Obesity
  • Smoking

Treatments for Superficial Venous Insufficiency

To diagnose superficial venous insufficiency, your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms and do a physical examination.

To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor will use ultrasound or another type of imaging test, such as an MRI or CT scan. This allows your doctor to identify which veins are affected and whether there are other health problems present.

This will help your doctor not only diagnose your condition, but also decide which treatment is most appropriate.

Compression stockings for superficial venous insufficiency may provide some relief from symptoms. These squeeze the legs to help move the blood in the veins toward the heart.

Compression stockings can be purchased from pharmacies or medical supply stores. Some are available only with a prescription from your doctor. These will not eliminate symptoms entirely.

However, there are several treatments available for superficial venous insufficiency, including:

  • Sclerotherapy: A chemical is injected into the vein, which causes it to close off. Eventually, the vein is reabsorbed by the body and fades away.
  • Endovenous ablation: A tube (catheter) is inserted into the vein through a cut (incision) in the skin. A special device in the tube uses laser or radiofrequency energy to heat the inside of the vein. This causes the vein to close off. Over time, it will fade away.
  • Ambulatory phlebotomy: The vein is removed in sections with a special hook through several small cuts in the skin.
  • Vein stripping: The vein is tied shut and surgically removed through a cut in the skin.

The best treatment for you depends upon which veins are affected and how severe your symptoms are. Ambulatory phlebectomy and vein stripping are mainly used for larger veins and more serious cases. Your doctor, though, may use multiple treatments at the same time for different veins.

Superficial venous insufficiency is a serious disease. Early diagnosis and treatment can relieve your symptoms and prevent your condition from becoming worse.

If you have any symptoms of superficial venous insufficiency, a vein specialist can determine the root cause and determine the best treatment options for you.

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