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  • History of prior DVT or leg injury.

  • Edema, (brawny) skin hyperpigmentation, subcutaneous lipodermosclerosis in the lower leg.

  • Venous ulcers: large ulcerations at or above the medial ankle.


Chronic venous insufficiency is a severe manifestation of venous hypertension. One of the most common etiologies is prior deep venous thrombophlebitis, although about 25% of patients do not have a known history of DVT. In these cases, there may be a history of leg trauma or surgery; obesity is often a complicating factor. Progressive superficial venous reflux is also a common cause. Other causes include congenital or neoplastic obstruction of the pelvic veins or a congenital or acquired arteriovenous fistula.

The basic pathology is caused by valve leaflets that do not coapt because they are either thickened and scarred (post-thrombotic syndrome) or in a dilated vein and are therefore functionally inadequate. Proximal venous obstruction due to chronic thrombus or scarring compounds the problem. With the valves unable to stop venous blood from returning to the foot (venous reflux), the leg develops venous hypertension and an abnormally high hydrostatic force is transmitted to the subcutaneous veins and tissues of the lower leg. The resulting edema results in dramatic and deleterious secondary changes. The stigmata of chronic venous insufficiency include fibrosis of the subcutaneous tissue and skin, pigmentation of skin (hemosiderin taken up by the dermal macrophages) and, later, ulceration, which is extremely slow to heal. Itching may precipitate the formation of ulceration or local wound cellulitis. Dilation of the superficial veins may occur, leading to varicosities. Although surgical treatment for venous reflux can improve symptoms, controlling edema and the secondary skin changes usually require lifelong compression therapy.


A. Symptoms and Signs

Progressive pitting edema of the leg (particularly the lower leg) is the primary presenting symptom. Secondary changes in the skin and subcutaneous tissues develop over time (Figure 12–2). The usual symptoms are itching, a dull discomfort made worse by periods of standing, and pain if an ulceration is present. The skin at the ankle is usually taut from swelling, shiny, and a brownish pigmentation (hemosiderin) often develops. If the condition is longstanding, the subcutaneous tissues become thick and fibrous. Ulcerations may occur, usually just above the ankle, on the medial or anterior aspect of the leg (eFigure 12–16). Healing results in a thin scar on a fibrotic base that often breaks down with minor trauma or further bouts of leg swelling. Varicosities may appear (Figure 12–3) that are associated with incompetent perforating veins. Cellulitis, which is often difficult to distinguish from the hemosiderin pigmentation, may be diagnosed by blanching erythema with pain.

Figure 12–2.

Bilateral pretibial edema and erythema consistent with stasis dermatitis (sometimes mimicking cellulitis) in chronic venous insufficiency. (Used, with permission, ...

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