Drugs to improve blood flow for people who have poor blood circulation in the veins of their legs


Insufficient blood circulation in the veins of the legs might be caused by genetic factors, may occur after trauma, or may result from a blood clot. Poor movement of blood up the legs may cause swelling and puffiness, feelings of heaviness, tingling, cramps, pain, varicose veins and changes in skin pigmentation. If severe insufficient blood circulation occurs, ulcers and skin wasting can develop. Drugs such as natural flavonoids extracted from plants and similar synthetic products may improve blood circulation. These drugs are known collectively as venoactive drugs or phlebotonics. This review examined evidence from randomised controlled clinical trials comparing these drugs versus inactive treatment (placebo), generally given over one to three months.

Key results

In total, 66 studies (53 with quantifiable data, including 6013 participants; mean age 50 years) met the eligibility criteria for this review (current until August 2015). Moderate-quality evidence from 13 studies (involving 1245 people) suggests that phlebotonics reduce puffiness (oedema) compared with placebo. Low quality evidence suggests there is no difference in the proportion of healed ulcers with phlebotonics compared with placebo. For quality of life, it was not possible to combine all studies because of differences between the studies. However, individual phlebotonic treatments shows high quality evidence there is no difference in quality of life for the phlebotonic calcium dobesilate. Low-quality evidence revealed improvement of quality of life for aminaftone when compared to placebo. Furthermore evidence suggests phlebotonics have beneficial effects on trophic disorders, cramps, restless legs, swelling and tingling. However, the relevance of these findings to the overall clinical state remains unclear. Moderate-quality evidence from 33 studies (involving 3975 people) shows that phlebotonics produce more side effects, especially gastrointestinal disorders.

Quality of the evidence

The quality of evidence was downgraded because of selective reporting for the outcome ulcer healing, for incomplete outcome data for the outcomes ulcer healing, oedema and adverse events and for unclear randomisation and imprecision of the overall results for the outcome quality of life.

Authors' conclusions: 

Moderate-quality evidence shows that phlebotonics may have beneficial effects on oedema and on some signs and symptoms related to CVI such as trophic disorders, cramps, restless legs, swelling and paraesthesia when compared with placebo but can produce more adverse effects. Phlebotonics showed no differences compared with placebo in ulcer healing. Additional high-quality RCTs focused on clinically important outcomes are needed to improve the evidence base.

Read the full abstract...

Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) is a common condition caused by valvular dysfunction with or without associated obstruction, usually in the lower limbs. It might result in considerable discomfort with symptoms such as pain, itchiness and tiredness in the legs. Patients with CVI may also experience swelling and ulcers. Phlebotonics are a class of drugs often used to treat CVI. This is an update of a review first published in 2005.


To assess the efficacy and safety of phlebotonics administered both orally and topically for treatment of signs and symptoms of lower extremity CVI.

Search strategy: 

For this update, the Cochrane Vascular Trials Search Co-ordinator (TSC) searched the Specialised Register (August 2015), as well as the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; 2015, Issue 7). The reference lists of the articles retrieved by electronic searches were searched for additional citations. We also contacted pharmaceutical companies and searched the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform Search Portal for ongoing studies (last searched in August 2015).

Selection criteria: 

Randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials (RCTs) assessing the efficacy of rutosides, hidrosmine, diosmine, calcium dobesilate, chromocarbe, Centella asiatica, disodium flavodate, french maritime pine bark extract, grape seed extract and aminaftone in patients with CVI at any stage of the disease.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently extracted data and assessed the quality of included RCTs. We estimated the effects of treatment by using risk ratios (RRs), mean differences (MDs) and standardised mean differences (SMDs), according to the outcome assessed. We calculated 95% confidence interval (CIs) and percentage of heterogeneity (I2). Additionally, we performed sensitivity analyses.

Main results: 

We included 66 RCTs of oral phlebotonics, but only 53 trials provided quantifiable data (involving 6013 participants; mean age 50 years) for the efficacy analysis: 28 for rutosides, 10 hidrosmine and diosmine, nine calcium dobesilate, two Centella asiatica, two aminaftone, two french maritime pine bark extract and one grape seed extract. No studies evaluating topical phlebotonics, chromocarbe, naftazone or disodium flavodate fulfilled the inclusion criteria.

Moderate-quality evidence suggests that phlebotonics reduced oedema in the lower legs compared with placebo. Phlebotonics showed beneficial effects among participants including reduced oedema (RR 0.70, 95% CI 0.63 to 0.78; I2 = 20%; 1245 participants) and ankle circumference (MD -4.27 mm, 95% CI -5.61 to -2.93 mm; I2 = 47%; 2010 participants). Low-quality evidence reveals no difference in the proportion of ulcers cured with phlebotonics compared with placebo (RR 0.94, 95% CI 0.79 to 1.13; I2 = 5%; 461 participants). In addition, phlebotonics showed greater efficacy for trophic disorders, cramps, restless legs, swelling and paraesthesia, when compared with placebo. We identified heterogeneity for the variables of pain, itching, heaviness, quality of life and global assessment by participants. For quality of life, it was not possible to pool the studies because heterogeneity was high. However, high-quality evidence suggests no differences in quality of life for calcium dobesilate compared with placebo (MD -0.60, 95% CI -2.15 to 0.95; I2 = 40%; 617 participants), and low-quality evidence indicates that in the aminaftone group, quality of life was improved over that reported in the placebo group (MD -10.00, 95% CI -17.01 to - 2.99; 79 participants). Moderate-quality evidence shows that the phlebotonics group had greater risk of non-severe adverse events than the placebo group (RR 1.21, 95% CI 1.05 to 1.41; I2 = 0; 3975 participants). Gastrointestinal disorders were the most frequently reported adverse events.