Definition of venous reflux in lower-extremity veins

Nicos Labropoulos, Jay Tiongson, Landon Pryor, Apostolos K Tassiopoulos, Steven S Kang, M Ashraf Mansour, William H Baker
Journal of Vascular Surgery 2003, 38 (4): 793-8

PURPOSE: This prospective study was designed to determine the upper limits of normal for duration and maximum velocity of retrograde flow (RF) in lower extremity veins.

METHODS: Eighty limbs in 40 healthy subjects and 60 limbs in 45 patients with chronic venous disease were examined with duplex scanning in the standing and supine positions. Each limb was assessed for reflux at 16 venous sites, including the common femoral, deep femoral, and proximal and distal femoral veins; proximal and distal popliteal veins; gastrocnemial vein; anterior and posterior tibial veins; peroneal vein; greater saphenous vein, at the saphenofemoral junction, thigh, upper calf, and lower calf; and lesser saphenous vein, at the saphenopopliteal junction and mid-calf. Perforator veins along the course of these veins were also assessed. In the healthy volunteers, 1553 vein segments were assessed, including 480 superficial vein segments, 800 deep vein segments, and 273 perforator vein segments; and in the patients, 1272 vein segments were assessed, including 360 superficial vein segments, 600 deep vein segments, and 312 perforator vein segments. Detection and measurement of reflux were performed at duplex scanning. Standard pneumatic cuff compression pressure was used to elicit reflux. Duration of RF and peak vein velocity were measured immediately after release of compression.

RESULTS: Duration of RF in the superficial veins ranged from 0 to 2400 ms (mean, 210 ms), and was less than 500 ms in 96.7% of these veins. In the perforator veins, regardless of location, outward flow ranged from 0 to 760 ms (mean, 170 ms), and was less than 350 ms in 97% of these veins. In the deep veins, RF ranged from 0 to 2600 ms. Mean RF in the deep femoral veins and calf veins was 190 ms, and was less than 500 ms in 97.6% of these veins. In the femoropopliteal veins, mean RF was 390 ms, and ranged from 510 to 2600 ms in 21 of 400 segments; however, RF was less than 990 ms in 99% of these veins. Duration of RF was significantly longer in all three veins systems in patients (P <.0001 for all comparisons). With a cutoff value of more than 1000 ms rather than more than 500 ms, prevalence of abnormal RF in the femoropopliteal veins was significantly reduced, from 29% to 18% (P =.002). Thirty-seven vein segments (2.4%) had RF greater than 500 ms in the supine position, compared with less than 500 ms in 22 of these vein segments (59%) in the standing position. Of the 48 vein segments (3.1%) with RF greater than 500 ms in the standing position, RF was less than 500 ms in 6 of these vein segments (13%) in the supine position. Similar observations were noted in patient veins. There was no association between RF and peak vein velocity. Peak vein velocity had no significance in determining reflux.

CONCLUSIONS: The cutoff value for reflux in the superficial and deep calf veins is greater than 500 ms. However, the reflux cutoff value for the femoropopliteal veins should be greater than 1000 ms. Outward flow in the perforating veins should be considered abnormal at greater than 350 ms. Reflux testing should be performed with the patient standing.

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