July 01, 2020

Chronic venous insufficiency

Skin signs of vein problems

Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) happens when you have increased pressure in your leg veins over a long period of time. Signs of this can show up on the skin surface. You may notice varicose veins, swelling and changes in your skin. Less commonly, CVI can lead to skin wounds (ulcers) on the legs or an infection called cellulitis.

Sometimes, an underlying cause of CVI can be treated. But for most people, watching for skin changes and taking steps to enhance blood flow in the legs are the main routes to preventing worsening problems.

Pressure in the vessels

Anytime you're upright, the blood in your feet and lower leg veins travels against gravity to get back to your heart. That's possible in part because valves in your leg veins help prevent the blood from traveling the wrong direction. However, increased pressure inside leg veins can cause vein widening and damage and loss of valve function. Increased pressure may be caused by:

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), in which a blood clot in the leg blocks blood from flowing freely
  • Leg injury or surgery that blocks flow through a leg vein
  • Excess weight or lack of exercise
  • Repeatedly standing or sitting for prolonged periods of time

Leg veins and valves may be damaged or not work properly due to other factors as well. Vein walls can weaken with age, a family history of CVI may predispose you to the problem, and smoking can damage veins.