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Itchy and Swollen Lower Legs? It Could Be a Vascular Issue

As if the swelling in your lower legs wasn’t concerning enough, you’ve developed an annoying itch in the areas that are puffy. 

You’re probably correct in assuming that the two are related and, as cardiovascular experts, we’re going to go a step further and say the odds are fairly good that the two symptoms may be related to a vascular issue.

At our practice, patients routinely come to see cardiologist Dr. James Kim for leg swelling, which is often accompanied by itchiness. In the following, we explore one vascular issue that counts these two symptoms among the most common — venous stasis dermatitis.

When blood pools in your legs

Your vascular system is made up of three types of blood vessels:

  1. Arteries that carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to your body
  2. Veins that deliver blood back to your heart for more oxygen
  3. Capillaries, which are tiny blood vessels that connect small veins and arteries

The veins in your lower legs are, arguably, among the hardest-working blood vessels in your body; they have to fight both distance and gravity to deliver oxygen-depleted blood back up to your heart. 

To help in this effort, the veins in your lower legs feature small, one-way valves that shut off as blood passes through, preventing it from spilling backward.

When these valves fail or weaken, they don’t close all the way, and blood can pool in your legs. This condition is called chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), which affects between 6 million and 7 million people in the United States.

How venous insufficiency leads to venous stasis dermatitis

There are a few different side effects of CVI that develop in your lower legs, chief among them:

These symptoms are grouped under a condition called venous stasis dermatitis, which affects about 15-20 million people over the age of 50 in the US. 

When blood pools in your legs, it can leak into your tissues and create swelling and inflammation. This inflammation can then block blood flow to your skin, which can lead to itchiness or a feeling of heaviness in your leg.

The longer the venous stasis dermatitis goes on, it can eventually lead to changes in skin color, a rash, and ulcers that are slow to heal due to the lack of good blood flow.

Getting rid of itchiness and swelling in your legs

The first step toward relieving your symptoms is to come see us so we can properly diagnose the problem. If we find that CVI and venous stasis dermatitis are the culprits behind your discomfort, we set you up with a good treatment plan to help you find relief. 

From elevating your legs to wearing compression stockings, you have several ways to encourage blood to flow back up to your heart more easily.

If you’d like to find a solution for your itchy and swollen lower legs, please contact us at one of our offices in Chula Vista or National City, California, to schedule an appointment.

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