Relentless itchiness, unusual discoloration, and red, scaly patches are common symptoms of the unhealthy skin changes caused by chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), or poor circulation in the lower legs, ankles, and feet.

Otherwise known as venous stasis dermatitis, itchy, discolored skin on your lower extremities isn’t a symptom you should ignore or simply learn to live with — it’s a problem that should be evaluated and treated by a medical expert as soon as possible.

Here, our skilled team of board-certified vascular experts at Somerset Surgical Associates, LLC explains how CVI can change your skin — and why prompt care is so important. 

CVI and venous stasis dermatitis

Venous insufficiency is a form of vascular disease that occurs when the veins in your legs develop a problem that leads to inadequate drainage or flow. If the problem persists and the condition becomes chronic, it can lead to a host of bothersome symptoms, including:

Most CVI cases occur when blood pools behind weakened or dysfunctional leg vein valves, causing the surrounding vessel wall to bulge, distort, and distend — or become “varicose.” Chronically insufficient leg veins can also damage adjacent capillaries, prompting them to leak fluid, blood cells, and proteins into nearby tissues, including skin. 

CVI and its complications are often linked to underlying peripheral vascular disease (PVD). 

Warning signs of stasis dermatitis

When blood doesn’t flow through your leg veins normally — especially if leaking capillaries trigger a localized buildup of fluids that puts continuous pressure on your skin — the effects can be serious.

In standard vein disease progression, stasis dermatitis is often preceded by some degree of localized swelling. It may be as minor as an existing varicose vein becoming more inflamed, or as severe as excessive leg swelling (peripheral edema).

Often, lower extremity swelling is an early indication of the inflammatory skin changes caused by stasis dermatitis; in fact, lower leg, ankle, or foot swelling is usually closely followed by skin color changes and itchiness in the affected area. 

Venous stasis dermatitis symptoms can range in intensity from mild and intermittent to severe and persistent. The following warning signs may appear in your lower legs, ankles, and/or feet on one or both sides of your body:

  • Persistent leg pain, achiness, or heaviness
  • Unrelenting localized itchiness and irritation 
  • Dry, thickened, flaky, or scaly skin patches
  • Red or purplish discoloration (on lighter skin tones)
  • Brown or ashen areas (on darker skin tones)
  • Noticeably raised or inflamed varicose veins 

On your itchiest, most irritated areas of skin, you may also notice orange-brown speckles of discoloration called “cayenne pepper spots.” These spots occur when pressure and swelling cause tiny capillaries to burst just beneath the surface of your skin. 

Venous stasis dermatitis solutions

Left untreated, venous stasis dermatitis can cause worsening skin changes. Oxygen-depleted areas may crack and break open, increasing your risk of infection and setting the stage for open, slow-healing wounds called venous ulcers. Lingering stasis dermatitis can also lead to permanent skin changes like thickening, hardening, or darkening (hyperpigmentation).

To prevent serious complications, prompt expert care is essential. This may include:

  • Wearing a special dressing around the affected area 
  • Applying medicated cream to dry, itchy skin patches
  • Taking antibiotics to resolve any suspected infections
  • Elevating your feet frequently to prevent blood pooling 
  • Wearing compression garments to improve circulation
  • Avoiding high-sodium foods; eating a wholesome diet

Over the longer term, our team may recommend specific lifestyle modifications like regular exercise, weight loss, and healthy blood pressure, blood sugar (glucose), and blood lipid (cholesterol and triglycerides) management to help ease factors that can exacerbate CVI and its complications.

If your CVI or stasis dermatitis symptoms aren’t improving (or are getting worse), you may be a good candidate for a minimally invasive vein procedure like Varithena® sclerotherapyvenous ablation, or endovascular revascularization. These procedures relieve venous stasis dermatitis by improving blood flow and restoring more optimal circulation.

Dealing with worrisome skin changes on your lower legs, ankles, or feet? We can help. Call or click online to schedule an appointment at Somerset Surgical Associates, LLC, in Somerville, New Jersey today.


We accept most insurance providers. If you have specific questions regarding your coverage, please contact us for additional information.

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