Objective: To review and summarize the literature on the normal venous circulation of the leg, and the epidemiology, pathophysiology, and treatment of chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).
Data sources: English-language articles identified through a MEDLINE search (1966-1996) using the terms venous insufficiency or varicose ulcer and epidemiology, pathophysiology, diagnosis, and clinical trial (pt), and selected cross-references.
Study selection: Articles on epidemiology, pathophysiology, and treatment of CVI. Randomized, controlled studies were specifically sought for treatment efficacy.
Data extraction: Data were manually extracted from selected studies and reviews: emphasis was placed on information relevant to the general internist.
Data synthesis: Chronic venous insufficiency is a common primary care problem associated with significant morbidity and health care costs. The clinical spectrum of disease ranges from minor cosmetic concerns to severe fibrosing panniculitis and ulceration. Duplex Doppler ultrasonography may be the single best test to rule out deep venous thrombosis and other entities that can mimic CVI. Leg elevation and compression stockings are effective treatments for CVI; recalcitrant cases may require intermittent pneumatic compression. Topical antiseptics, antibiotics, enzymes, or growth factors offer no clear advantages in ulcer healing. Ulcer dressings remain a matter of convenience, cost, and physician judgment. The role of surgery in CVI appears to be limited.
Conclusions: Chronic venous insufficiency is a recalcitrant, recurrent medical problem. This condition can be managed by primary care physicians with relatively inexpensive treatment modalities in association with lifestyle modification.