Venous stasis, also known as chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) is a condition in which the veins in the lower legs don’t work properly. In healthy veins, small valves in the vessels open and close to help blood in the legs return to the heart. The walls of veins also work with the valves to help circulate blood. But if the valves and walls fail to work properly, blood can pool in the lower legs—a condition known as stasis—and result in a number of chronic problems.
CVI is more common in people over age 50, and women are more likely to develop CVI than men. Smoking also can increase a person’s risk of developing CVI.
Damage to the valves and vessel walls can result from aging, sedentary lifestyle, sitting or standing for long periods of time, obesity, high blood pressure, heart or kidney failure, varicose veins, or frequent pregnancies. Clots occurring in the deep veins of the legs also can cause CVI.
Early symptoms of CVI include swelling in the lower extremities, especially around the ankles, and feelings of heaviness in the legs when walking or standing. As the condition progresses, symptoms may include itching and burning; yellow, red or brown discoloration of skin below the knees; pain; and sores that develop on the lower legs, especially around the ankles and shins, that ooze fluid or look scaly or crusty.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for CVI. Treatment aims to improve circulation in the legs through the use of compression stockings, which aid in circulation and help reduce swelling that leads to skin changes; doing exercises such as walking that cause the leg muscles to contract, helping push blood back toward the heart; and periodically and regularly elevating the legs above the heart. In some cases, surgery can help correct venous insufficiency in the legs. Medications can be prescribed to treat pain, itching and swelling in the legs.
People can avoid developing venous insufficiency by eating a healthy diet, having an active lifestyle, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding smoking. It is also advisable to avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time without movement, and to wear clothing that does not constrict circulation in the lower extremities.