JOURNAL ARTICLE
RESEARCH SUPPORT, NON-U.S. GOV'T
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Saphenous pulsation on duplex may be a marker of severe chronic superficial venous insufficiency.

BACKGROUND: Pulsatile flow in deep, perforating veins and varicose veins (VVs) has been described previously to support a hypothesis of arteriovenous (AV) fistulae in the pathogenesis of VVs. Its presence has also been suggested as a cause of failure of VV treatments. However, AV communications have never been adequately visualized and direct pressure tracings within leg veins have been inconclusive. The present study was observational aiming to investigate the prevalence and rate of spontaneous pulsation within the great saphenous vein (GSV) in volunteers and patients using color duplex and compare this to reflux and markers of disease severity.

METHODS: Twenty-seven consecutive patients (32 legs, median Venous Clinical Severity Score (VCSS) = 5 [0-11]) attending the VV clinic and 23 consecutive ambulatory normal volunteers (46 legs) had their GSV assessed at midthigh using color duplex. Subjects were examined standing with the hips resting against an adjustable couch, bearing weight on the contralateral leg, with the test leg touching the ground. The presence of flow and reflux were initially determined using manual calf compression. Saphenous pulsation (SP) was defined as a cyclical change in velocity. The GSV diameter and SP rate were then recorded after 2 minutes of dependency. The number of pulsations was counted from video recordings.

RESULTS: The resting SP, if present, was discrete, monophasic, of variable amplitude, antegrade, and irregular, irrespective of respiration. Pulsation was detected in 2/44 (4.5%) legs with C(0-1) (C part of CEAP), 9/17 (52.9%) legs with C(2-3), and 16/17 (94.1%) legs with C(4-6) (P < .05, z test of column proportions). Reflux occurred in 8/32 (25%) legs without SP (C(0) = 2, C(1) = 1, C(2) = 3, C(3) = 2). The median GSV diameter was significantly elevated in the presence of SP (no pulse: 3.5 [range, 1.5-8.1] mm; pulse: 7 [range, 4-9.4] mm; P < .0005). The median refluxing GSV diameter in GSV pulsators compared with nonpulsators was 7 (range, 4-9.4) mm; vs 5.1 (range, 2.7-8.1) mm, respectively (P = .003). The median SP rate in refluxing GSVs was 52 (range, 22-95) beats per minute.

CONCLUSIONS: The high prevalence of pulsatile antegrade saphenous flow is a novel observation in patients with severe superficial chronic venous insufficiency. It is detectable in 75% of patients with GSV reflux and significantly increases with clinical severity and saphenous diameter. It may be a marker of advanced venous disease and, as it is easy to record, it could supplement duplex evaluations of reflux. Further work is needed to establish the clinical relevance of the SP in terms of disease progression, recurrence after treatment, and as a hemodynamic marker of severity.

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