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What Is Venous Insufficiency?
August 31, 2017
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Hinsdale venous insufficiency
Above, a diseased vein with blood flowing in both directions; below, a healthy vein with blood only flowing toward the heart.

Varicose veins may point to something more serious.

If you’ve had varicose veins for some time and are hoping to learn more about the risks involved, you may have stumbled across guides to venous insufficiency and all that it involves. But it can be confusing to wade through the medical terminology and try to come to a clear understanding of what that really means.

We’re here to help. Below, we’ve laid out some of the key things patients with varicose veins should know about venous insufficiency. If you’d like to learn more from an expert, schedule a consultation with Dr. Muasher. He will examine your veins and tell you more about treatment options that would suit your personal needs.

Reach out today.

How Veins Work

Let’s start with a quick discussion of the vascular system. The heart pumps blood full of oxygen and nutrients. This blood travels through arteries, moving away from the heart and out into the entire body, through the head and the full length of each limb.

After the blood has finished traveling through the arteries, it enters the capillaries. There, oxygen and nutrients are passed to the surrounding tissues, and replaced with waste products. These include carbon dioxide, urea and water. The blood should then have just the right amount of pressure remaining to push back to the heart and be replenished with oxygen.

When we are standing, the pumping heart is aided by gravity – it’s easier for the blood flowing to the legs to arrive at its destination. But when it’s time for the blood to return to the heart, gravity has the opposite effect.

Venous blood encounters an obstacle when the person is standing – it’s harder to return to the heart with gravity working against it. This leads to blood in the feet and ankles lacking adequate pressure to move higher than the lower leg.

At this point, the muscles in the legs step in. They add extra pressure and assist in the pumping of the blood back up toward the heart, with it passing through the lungs and kidneys along the way. Once the blood reaches the heart, it receives fresh oxygen and nutrients and the cycle begins again.

Veins don’t do any pumping themselves – the are passive. Their primary feature is that they are extremely elastic. This means they can become distended when full of blood, and also compressed when blood is being pushed out and upwards.

Veins Within the Legs

The legs are where varicose veins most frequently occur – for the reasons we’re about to discuss. Within the legs, deeper veins are surrounded by muscle. Even the slightest movements compress the veins, assisting the pumping process. The leg contains three muscle pumps, as well as a foot pump. These all coordinate with the movement of walking or running, so they are most effective when you’re moving.

But there’s an entirely different mechanism that we haven’t even mentioned. The veins need to push blood back toward the heart – but they also need to ensure that the blood doesn’t travel in 2 directions when the vein is compressed. Consider the way a surrounding muscle pushes in on a vein. What prevents blood from being squeezed both toward and away from the heart?

A series of valves. Contained within the veins, these valves point upwards. They’re pushed open when blood is pushed toward the heart. But when the pumping has stopped and blood begins falling backwards, the valves close to catch blood and prevent it from moving back down the leg.

When Venous Insufficiency Takes Hold

Varicose veins form when the valves within the veins are no longer functioning properly. Depleted blood is unable to move all the way back to the heart, and pools within the veins. This leads to veins becoming enlarged and appearing blue or bulging through the skin.

Chronic venous insufficiency is a condition in which the leg veins don’t allow blood to return to the heart. The veins have malfunctioned, so blood flows in both directions when pumped. If blood continues to pool in the veins, more serious conditions can take hold. The patient may experience discomfort, swelling, or ulcers.

When exactly does venous insufficiency become chronic? This is typically determined by an amount of time plus severity of symptoms. This is one reason why early treatment of varicose veins is beneficial for patients. It’s likely that less damage will be done by the point of treatment, so the process will be simpler and the downtime shorter.

If you have varicose veins and would like to explore your treatment options, we are here to help – please, get in touch.


Hinsdale Cardiovascular Surgeon | Venous Insufficiency Hinsdale | Cardiovascular Surgeon Hinsdale
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