Venous stasis refers to loss of proper function of the veins in the legs that would normally carry blood back toward the heart. This may occur following injury to the veins, which can result in blood clots in the superficial veins known as superficial phlebitis, or following blood clots in the deep veins known as deep venous thrombosis. Swelling in the lower legs and ankle can also occur as a result of heart disease called Chronic Congestive Heart Failure and due to kidney disease. In some instances the cause of the swelling may not be easily identified.
Individuals with this condition usually exhibit edema, which means swelling, of the legs and ankles. The superficial veins in the legs may be varicosed, causing the veins to be enlarged and appear as a cord or a bunch of grapes. Patients often complain of a feeling of fullness, aching, or tiredness in their legs. These symptoms are worse with standing, and are relieved when the legs are elevated.
As the condition progresses the blood continues to collect in the feet, ankles, and legs. The pigmentation from the red blood cells stains the skin from the inside, and a reddish-brown discoloration develops on the skin. This is called venous stasis dermatitis.
In severe cases of long-standing venous stasis, the skin begins to lose its elasticity, and a sore may develop on the inside of the ankle. This is known as venous stasis ulceration. This ulcer often will drain large amount of fluid and will have a red base. Secondary infection can complicate the ulcer and will require antibiotic treatment.
Further testing may be requested by your doctor to further evaluate the condition of your veins. This may include venous Doppler testing, which uses sound waves to listen to the blood flow through the veins. If there is a suspicion of an acute thrombosis (blood clots), a venogram may be requested. This enables the veins to be visible on x-rays, and the blood clot can be identified with greater certainty. Identification of deep vein thrombosis is important, because failure to properly treat may result in a blood clot breaking loose in the leg and traveling to the lungs called pulmonary embolus, which can be fatal.
The most common treatments for venous stasis are rest, elevation, and compression stockings. When elevating your feet the ideal position is to have your feet above the level of your heart. This permits greater return of blood back toward the heart. This usually means you are lying down with your legs raised with pillows.
The compressive stockings come in different lengths. A knee high stocking may be sufficient if the swelling is confined to the lower legs and ankles. However if the swelling extends up to the knee, then a thigh high or panty hose style elastic stocking may be required. The compression stockings are also available in a variety of compression strengths. The greater the compression the more squeeze the stocking will apply to the leg. Generally, over-the-counter elastic stockings are available (without prescription) in most pharmacies or surgical supply stores. These have a compression range of 10 to 20 mm compression. If these do not provide enough compression to control the edema, then a prescription compression stocking may be necessary. These begin at 30 to 40 mm compression, and are often referred to as T.E.D. stockings. In more severe cases a higher level of compression may be necessary. These stockings often need to be custom sized to each individual leg, otherwise they are difficult to put on and may not provide even compression throughout the extremity. Your doctor may also use medications to reduce the swelling called Diuretics. Diuretics increase the output of urine and your doctor should closely monitor the use of this medication. If the cause of the swelling is due to heart problems or kidney problems your doctor will evaluate the need to adequately treat these conditions.