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What Are Vein Valves?

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The valves inside the leg veins can be seen on ultrasound. The arrow points to a valve in the great saphenous vein within the leg.

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Leg veins have one-way valves that prevent blood from flowing backward. Diseased valves are ‘leaky’ and allow blood flow both forward and backward, eventually causing bulging of the veins, i.e., varicose veins.

In the circulatory system, the veins carry de-oxygenated blood back to the heart. The leg veins carry blood toward the heart, against gravity. Therefore, the leg veins have one-way valves the prevent back flow of blood. When the valves do not function properly, they allow blood to flow backward, causing pooling of blood. This  is referred to as venous reflux or venous insufficiency. Eventually, the backflow of the blood will cause varicose veins to develop and symptoms related to the increased pressure in the leg veins such as leg heaviness, aching, swelling, restless legs, night cramps, throbbing and pain. 

Varicose Veins vs. Spider Veins

What is the difference between varicose veins and spider veins?  Are they the same thing? Spider veins and varicose veins both refer to dysfunctional, dilated leg veins but the main difference is the size of the veins. Spider veins are small, thread-like veins at the surface of the skin. They often appear in clusters or can have a ‘starburst’ or spider-like pattern. Varicose veins, are larger veins that appear swollen, twisted cordlike veins that ‘bulge’ at the surface.

Both spider veins and varicose veins can cause pain and other symptoms like burning, aching and throbbing. Both can be treated without surgery.

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This image describes the difference between spider veins and varicose veins. Both are manifestations of unhealthy veins. Spider veins are essentially, tiny varicose veins.

Olympic Athlete Struggles With Varicose Veins

Olympic Gold Medalist Summer Sanders

Patients sometimes tell us that they feel isolated or alone as a result of their varicose veins. The fact is, however, that they are not alone- one in four Americans have some form of vein disorder. Olympic athletes get varicose veins too! Olympic swimmer and gold-medalist, Summer Sanders shares her story of suffering with varicose veins. “As a life-long athlete and Olympic swimmer, I never thought a condition like varicose veins or chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) would affect me. It soon hit me that, even though I was active, I was starting to get my mother’s legs.
It’s important for people to realize that varicose veins and CVI can happen to anyone and they are more than just a cosmetic issue. But you don’t have to live with the uncomfortable and painful symptoms. There are minimally-invasive treatments available that are covered by many insurance plans.
It’s time to Rethink Varicose Veins. I’m glad that I did.” Read all of Summer’s story at www.rethinkvaricoseveins.com