Venous insufficiency is a long-term (chronic) condition in which the veins have problems sending blood from the legs back to the heart.
Some people with venous insufficiency develop stasis dermatitis. Blood pools in the veins of the lower leg. Fluid and blood cells leak out of the veins into the skin and other tissues. This may lead to itching, which causes more skin changes.
You may have symptoms of venous insufficiency, which include a dull aching or heaviness in the leg and pain that gets worse when you stand.
At first, the skin of the ankles and lower legs may look thin or tissue-like. You may slowly get brown stains on the skin.
If you scratch the area, the skin may become irritated or crack. It may also become red or swollen, crusted, or weepy.
Over time, some skin changes become permanent:
Thickening and hardening of the skin on the legs and ankles (lipodermatosclerosis)
A bumpy or cobblestone appearance of the skin
Dark brown color
Skin sores (ulcers) may develop (called a venous ulcer or stasis ulcer). These most often form on the inside of the ankle.
Signs and tests
The diagnosis is primarily based on the appearance of the skin. Your doctor may order tests to examine the blood flow in your legs.
You may take the following steps to manage venous insufficiency, which is causing stasis dermatitis:
Use elastic or compression stockings to reduce swelling
Avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time and keep the leg raised when you sit
Habif TP. Eczema and hand dermatitis. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 3.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.