What is Venous Reflux Disease?
The veins and the arteries work closely together to keep your vascular system functioning. While the arteries deliver blood from the heart to the rest of the body, the veins return the depleted blood back to the heart for reoxygenation. When this process doesn’t work correctly, the body experiences venous reflux.
To work against gravity, this venous blood flows through your body by an action that takes place in your calf muscles. The valves open up to allow this blood to be pushed toward the heart. However, when this blood starts to build up, these valves shut to prevent any reflux.
That’s why venous reflux disease, also known as chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), causes changes in the texture and color around the ankles and legs. It also contributes to swelling in the ankles and legs (edema), restless legs syndrome (RLS), and varicose veins.
The Causes of Venous Reflux
There are a number of factors that can cause venous reflux, including a blood disorder or injury that causes blood clots that damage the valves or veins. This includes peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition that results in less blood flow in the legs due to a buildup of fatty materials, plaque, and cholesterol.
Equally, when a patient suffers from deep vein thrombosis (DVT), blood clots form in one or several of your deep veins, typically in your legs. The obstruction caused by DVT can lead to valve damage resulting in a pooling of blood in the legs or deep vein reflux. Around 30% of people who develop DVT will suffer from chronic venous insufficiency within 10 years.
Alternatively, superficial venous reflux (also referred to as saphenous venous reflux), can cause varicose veins, spider veins (telangiectasias), and small reddish veins (reticular veins). These types of vein diseases tend to occur as you grow older. The natural aging process weakens the vein valves and walls, sometimes causing clots in the saphenous veins (smaller veins nearer the surface of your skin) which lead to superficial venous insufficiency.
The Symptoms of Venous Reflux
The following venous reflux symptoms may indicate venous insufficiency:
- Edema – swelling of the ankles or legs
- Leg cramps
- Pain that eases when you raise your legs but gets worse when you stand up
- Itchy legs
- Throbbing, aching, or a heavy sensation in your legs
- Weak legs
- Varicose veins
- Reticular veins
- Leg ulcers
- Changes in skin color – particularly near your ankles
- Thickened skin, particularly on your ankles or legs
- Tight sensations in your calves
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, it may be time to schedule an appointment with a vein specialist for further evaluation. If left untreated, chronic venous reflux disease can lead to other health complications.
Venous Reflux Risk Factors
Up to 40% of women and 17% of men who experience significant problems with the veins in their legs may suffer from venous reflux disease. Certain risk factors increase the likelihood of a person developing venous insufficiency. Some risk factors can be prevented while others are out of a person’s control. Key risk factors include:
- Pregnancy, especially multiple pregnancies
- Family history or current presence of varicose veins
- Deep vein thrombosis or a history of blood clots
- Absence of vein valves from a congenital birth defect
- A blockage in the veins along the groin or pelvis
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Cancer, tumors, or unusual growths
- Injury to the ankle or leg
If you are at risk of venous reflux, we highly recommend consulting with a vein specialist to handle your condition early and avoid any progression of your symptoms. It’s also important to stay up to date on new information regarding vein disease, so subscribe to our weekly newsletter to stay on top of your health and learn more about finding relief from venous reflux.
Getting a Diagnosis of Venous Reflux
To assess whether or not you have venous insufficiency, your doctor will carry out a physical examination and will go through your medical history with you. They’ll make note of any changes to the texture, color, or temperature of your skin, while also looking for spider veins and varicose veins along with any ulcerations or edema on your legs.
Your doctor will also assess how efficiently your circulatory system is working by checking pulses at numerous different places. Then, to accurately determine what’s causing the problem, they may want to do some further venous reflux tests, which includes taking an ultrasound which creates an image of the structure of your veins and the blood flow within them. Sonographers, the specialists who conduct these ultrasounds. will evaluate everything thoroughly with your doctor before proceeding with creating your treatment plan.
Venous Reflux Treatment Options
How venous reflux is treated will depend on a variety of factors, including your health history and the reason why this condition has occurred. Other factors that will influence your doctor’s decision include:
- Your age
- Your symptoms
- How tolerant you are of certain procedures and/or medications
- How severe your condition is and how they expect it to progress
- Your preference or opinion
Endovenous Laser Therapy (EVLT)
EVLT doesn’t require surgery but is an FDA-approved treatment that permanently eliminates superficial venous insufficiency. It can also reduce the risk for blood clots and Deep Vein Thrombosis.
To carry this out, doctors use an ultrasound to guide a thin laser fiber into the affected vein. Once in position, laser energy is used to heat the area, which causes the inefficient vein to collapse. This means that other healthy veins are taking the blood back to your heart, with the unused vein eventually being reabsorbed into your body.
The number of procedures required will depend on how many veins are diseased. However, each procedure should only last approximately 15 minutes. You’ll also be provided with a local anesthesia to prevent any potential discomfort while the procedure is being performed. Due to the minimally invasive nature of EVLT, most patients should be able to return to day-to-day activities immediately afterward.
Often used when the case of chronic venous reflux disease has advanced to a certain level or when the affected vein is deep in the tissue, sclerotherapy involves injecting a sclerosant solution into the vein which causes the blood to thicken and the vein to collapse. It is sealed off, so blood can’t flow through. The blood is then naturally diverted to other veins, and the vein will get absorbed into the body gradually. This procedure can be used on small- to medium-sized veins.
Sometimes, in conjunction with treatments like EVLT, sclerotherapy, and compression stockings, complementary therapies may be required. These can include certain exercises that you do at home or temporary medications like diuretics, anticoagulants, and pentoxifylline (Trental).
Diuretics utilize your kidneys to remove excess fluid from your body, anticoagulants help thin your blood, and Trental works to improve how your blood flows around your body. The latter may be used alongside compression stockings to speed up the healing process of your leg ulcers. Ulcers can also be healed using aspirin.
Ways of Preventing Chronic Venous Reflux Disease
If you are at risk of developing venous insufficiency, there are several things you can do to decrease this risk. Although genetics play a key role in whether you will develop the condition, you can make smart lifestyle choices that reduce your odds. Certain activities place more stress on your veins, and should be avoided. Activities to avoid when you have venous reflux include:
- Sitting or standing for long periods
- Lifting heavy objects or straining
- Sitting with legs crossed
In addition to avoiding these activities, you can help reduce your risk of developing this condition through other behaviors, including:
- Regularly exercising
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Treating high blood pressure
- Treating constipation
While these actions do not guarantee that you won’t develop chronic venous reflux disease, being proactive can lower your risk. If you are at risk or are experiencing symptoms, consulting with a vein specialist for treatment is the best course to get you back on your feet.
Contact USA Vein Clinics for a Consultation
If you’re concerned about your vein health, contact your doctor right away. In some cases, symptoms of this condition may be likened to other conditions, which is why it’s highly recommended that you schedule a consultation to receive a proper diagnosis.
USA Vein Clinics is dedicated to the treatment of vein disease, and we only utilize minimally invasive treatments. Contact us at 888.768.3467 to speak with someone about treating your venous insufficiency.