BACKGROUND Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) techniques have detected the existence of circulating forms of intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), vascular endothelial adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) and E-selectin, all of which mediate leucocyte-endothelial adhesion. This study determined whether circulating cell adhesion molecules were increased in patients with chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) which causes venous stasis. PATIENTS AND METHODS Before and after walking and upon recovery blood samples were drawn from the saphenous vein in 20 CVI patients: 10 with varicose veins (group 1), 10 with deep venous insufficiency (group 2). 10 healthy controls were enrolled. The total leucocyte count and the soluble levels of ICAM-1, VCAM-1 and E-selectin were determined. RESULTS After walking, the total leucocyte count decreased significantly (p < 0.01) only in group 2 and sICAM-1 and sVCAM-1 increased significantly (p < 0.01). Upon recovery, these significant differences remained in group 2. No significant modification was observed at any stage of the study in group 1 or in the control group. CONCLUSIONS These results suggest persistently high levels of circulating adhesion molecules may contribute to worsen microvascular perfusion, which leads to the onset of trophic damage in CVI.