Varicose veins aren’t the only consequence of chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), or poor lower extremity circulation — this common vascular problem can also lead to abnormal skin changes like relentless itchiness, shiny discoloration, and dry, scaly patches.
Read on as our board-certified experts discuss how CVI can change your skin and explain why these changes should prompt you to schedule a comprehensive vascular evaluation at Vascular Vein Centers as soon as possible.
How CVI can change your skin
Venous insufficiency is a common condition that emerges when damaged, dysfunctional, or aging leg vein valves stop working properly. This leads to inefficient blood flow in your lower extremities, which sets the stage for abnormal skin changes in six basic steps:
- Lower extremity circulation slows
- Blood pools behind leg vein valves
- Intravascular pressure increases
- Tiny capillaries start to leak fluids
- Lower legs and feet begin to swell
- Skin tissues receive less oxygen
When the skin tissues over sluggish veins receive less oxygen and fewer nutrients, they start to change. The resulting condition, known as venous stasis dermatitis, commonly occurs over varicose veins, but can also affect areas of skin with no discernable underlying vein issues.
Signs of venous stasis dermatitis
With normal vascular disease progression, stasis dermatitis symptoms are often preceded by localized inflammation. This swelling may be mild, simply making a varicose vein appear more inflamed, or it may be severe, causing excessive leg swelling that makes your socks feel tight.
In some cases, mild leg swelling is actually an early sign of the inflammatory skin changes set in motion by CVI and venous stasis dermatitis. Skin tone and textural changes — along with localized irritation and itchiness — are soon to follow. You may experience:
- Red or purplish discoloration (on lighter skin)
- Brown or ashen discoloration (on darker skin)
- Dry, flaky, or scaly skin patches that itch
- Thickened skin areas that are tight and shiny
- Distinctly enlarged or inflamed varicose veins
Venous stasis dermatitis can also lead to the development of orange-brown speckles called “cayenne pepper spots.” These spots of discoloration occur when CVI-related pressure and swelling burst the tiny capillaries just beneath the skin’s surface.
Abnormal skin changes are usually just one set of symptoms that indicate the existence of an underlying vascular problem. You may also have varicose veins or spider veins, experience persistent leg pain, achiness, or heaviness, or all the above.
From skin changes to open sores
CVI and CVI-related skin changes tend to progress over time. Without medical intervention, venous stasis dermatitis can lead to ever-declining skin changes. Specifically, nutrient- and oxygen-deprived skin tissues are more likely to dry out and break open, setting the stage for the formation of open, slow-healing wounds called venous ulcers.
In addition to increasing your risk of infection, untreated stasis dermatitis may lead to permanent skin thickening, hardening, or darkening (hyperpigmentation).
Our in-depth treatment approach
CVI-related skin changes require prompt treatment aimed at easing venous stasis dermatitis symptoms, slowing vascular disease progression, and avoiding worsening complications, which often involves a combination of approaches:
Relief for itchy skin
If you’re plagued by dry, itchy skin patches, medicated cream can ease localized swelling and provide instant symptom relief. Custom compression garments help deliver symptom relief by reducing swelling and improving circulation over the long-term.
Care for open sores
If your inflamed, irritated skin has developed an open sore, we dress the wound and cover it with a compression garment to promote healing and better circulation. We may also advise a course of antibiotics to resolve or prevent infection.
To support improved circulation, our team offers individualized recommendations aimed at minimizing or reversing the effects of venous insufficiency. In most cases, this means getting more exercise, switching to a heart-healthy, low-sodium diet, quitting smoking, and avoiding long stretches of sitting or standing.
If you have varicose veins, a minimally invasive vein removal treatment like sclerotherapy can improve blood flow and circulation and often reverse abnormal skin changes.
Long-term CVI control
We also make additional recommendations toward improved health management to help you achieve long-term CVI control. Maintaining a healthy body weight as well as healthy blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood lipid (cholesterol and triglycerides) numbers can go a long way toward helping you improve your CVI outcome.
Have you noticed unusual skin changes? Vascular Vein Centers can help. Call or click online to schedule a visit at your nearest office in College Park of Orlando, Waterford Lakes of East Orlando, Kissimmee, Davenport/Haines City, Lake Mary, or The Villages, Florida.