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Diagnostic evaluation of lower extremity chronic venous insufficiency

Patrick C Alguire, MD, FACP
Barbara M Mathes, MD, FACP, FAAD
Section Editors
John F Eidt, MD
Joseph L Mills, Sr, MD
Deputy Editor
Kathryn A Collins, MD, PhD, FACS


Severe clinical manifestations of chronic venous disease, including edema (which can be unilateral), skin changes, and venous ulceration, are often sufficient to establish a diagnosis of chronic venous insufficiency. However, objective testing may be needed to confirm the diagnosis, determine the etiology (reflux, obstruction, or reflux and obstruction), localize the anatomic site and severity of disease, or identify coexisting peripheral artery disease.

Diagnostic testing identifies patients with venous pathology who may benefit from vein ablation treatments, which are effective in controlling vein-related symptoms and decreasing the incidence of recurrent ulceration in those with superficial venous reflux.

The diagnostic tests available to evaluate the patient with suspected chronic venous insufficiency are reviewed. The pathophysiology, clinical manifestations, and treatment of this disorder are discussed separately. (See "Pathophysiology of chronic venous disease" and "Clinical manifestations of lower extremity chronic venous disease" and "Overview and management of lower extremity chronic venous disease" and "Medical management of lower extremity chronic venous disease" and "Endovenous laser ablation for the treatment of lower extremity chronic venous disease" and "Radiofrequency ablation for the treatment of lower extremity chronic venous disease".)


Localized lower extremity edema and characteristic skin pigmentation strongly support the diagnosis of venous hypertension (picture 1). The history and physical examination are sufficient in many cases for eliminating systemic causes of venous hypertension (eg, hypervolemia, heart failure). (See "Clinical manifestations of lower extremity chronic venous disease" and "Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of edema in adults", section on 'Venous insufficiency or thrombosis' and "Clinical assessment of wounds", section on 'Differentiation of chronic ulcers'.)

A venous duplex ultrasound examination can confirm the presence of venous obstruction or valvular incompetence as the cause of venous hypertension and is used for planning venous ablation procedures [1-3] but is not necessary in all cases of suspected venous insufficiency where intervention is not being considered. (See 'Duplex ultrasonography' below.)

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Literature review current through: Oct 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 22, 2017.
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