The natural history in the general population of chronic venous disease in the legs is not well understood. This has limited our ability to predict which patients will deteriorate and to assign clinical priorities. The aims of this study were to describe the progression of trunk varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) in the general population, to identify important lifestyle and clinical prognostic factors, and to determine the relationship between venous reflux and progression.
The Edinburgh Vein Study is a population-based cohort study in which randomly selected adults aged 18 to 64 years had an examination at baseline. This included a questionnaire on lifestyle and clinical factors, standardized assessment and classification of venous disease in the legs, and duplex scan to detect venous reflux in eight segments of each leg. A follow-up examination 13 years later included a reclassification of venous disease to ascertain progression in the development or increase in severity of varicose veins and CVI.
Among 1566 adults seen at baseline, 880 had a follow-up examination, of whom 334 had trunk varicose veins or CVI at baseline and composed the study sample. The mean (standard deviation) duration of follow-up was 13.4 (0.4) years. Progression was found in 193 (57.8%), equivalent to 4.3% (95% confidence interval [CI], 3.7-4.9) annually. In 270 subjects with only varicose veins at baseline, 86 (31.9%) developed CVI, with the rate increasing consistently with age (P = .04). Almost all subjects (98%) with both varicose veins and CVI at baseline deteriorated. Progression of chronic venous disease did not differ by gender or leg, but a family history of varicose veins and history of deep venous thrombosis increased risk (odds ratio [OR], 1.85 [95% CI, 1.14-1.30] and 4.10 [95% CI, 1.07-15.71], respectively). Overweight was associated with increased risk of CVI in those with varicose veins (OR, 1.85; 95% CI, 1.10-3.12). Reflux in the superficial system increased the likelihood of progression, especially in combination with deep reflux (OR, 2.57; 95% CI, 1.55-4.25) and when located in the small saphenous vein (OR, 4.73; 95% CI, 1.37-16.39).
Nearly half of the general population with chronic venous disease deteriorated during 13 years, and almost one third with varicose veins developed skin changes of CVI, increasing their risk of ulceration. Age, family history of varicose veins, history of deep venous thrombosis, overweight, and superficial reflux, especially in the small saphenous vein and with deep reflux, might influence the risk of progression.