When your vein valves are functioning properly you don’t even know they’re there. But when they are damaged, a condition called Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI) can occur. If you’ve ever wondered what causes varicose veins, it’s most likely due to CVI, a type of vein disorder where the vein valves in your legs become damaged, making it extremely difficult for blood to return to the heart.
What are vein valves and how do they impact your health?
As you probably remember learning in Science class – your arteries carry oxygen-rich blood away from your heart, and veins return it back for oxygenation. We have deep veins that are surrounded by muscles which help to propel the blood forward. Then we have more superficial veins that are situated in the skin’s fatty layer. These types of veins are not influenced by muscles but they are part of a complex venous network. Both types of veins have flaps of tissue called “vein valves.”
As the blood travels along the veins to the heart, the vein valves ensure it flows in one direction only. Think of it as a swinging door that pushes the blood inside but doesn’t allow it to flow in reverse. If the effects of gravity or muscle contractions cause the blood to pool or try to back up, the vein valve closes automatically, preventing the blood from flowing backward.
Connection between vein valves and varicose veins
As mentioned earlier, when vein valves, or vein walls, become damaged they can lead to Chronic Venous Insufficiency. As well as swelling and skin discoloration, one of the symptoms of CVI is varicose veins. When blood is not able to flow back up to the heart, it begins to reflux or pool, forming twisted, enlarged vessels you know as varicose veins.
Another danger of CVI is that it’s intimately connected with the formation of blood clots, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). In some cases CVI is actually caused by blood clots deep inside your legs. These blockages can increase the blood pressure in your leg veins for extended periods of time, damaging the vein valves. Over time, you’re at risk of developing not only varicose veins but other more serious complications such as rupture of the vein, secondary lymphedema, venous ulceration and pulmonary embolism.
Symptoms of CVI and faulty vein valves
CVI is one medical condition that will not clear up on its own. This is especially true if you have higher risk factors for the disease, such as: you’re a smoker, obese, are over the age of 50 or have a family history of CVI or blood clots. In fact, the problem may only get worse with time. That’s why the earlier you receive a proper diagnosis and treatment, the less chance there is of developing complications. It’s very important to seek varicose vein treatment right away if you experience any of the following:
- Swelling in your lower legs and/or ankles
- Pain or fatigue when walking or standing
- Formation of new varicose veins
- Tight, itchy or uncomfortable feeling in the calves
- Persistent leg ulcers that don’t go away on their own
- The skin on your lower legs looks discoloured or ‘leathery’
Seek expert advice
Once your vein valves have become severely damaged the best course of action is to eliminate the source of the disease – the affected varicose vein. The first step is to book your initial consultation. Your specialist will examine the area visually and by performing an ultrasound scan, make a proper diagnosis and recommend the appropriate procedure.
At the Vein Institute, we specialises in non-surgical varicose vein treatment. Although several traditional surgical techniques are available, our philosophy is to offer minimally-invasive options with the least downtime and disruption for our patients. The procedures we offer include: EVA Laser treatment for varicose veins, Ultrasound Guided Sclerotherapy, Venaseal (medical super glue) and Compression Therapy.