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Understanding Leg Vein Problems

Leg veins carry blood from your feet and legs back to your heart. If a vein is damaged, it may cause problems in your legs.

Cutaway view of vein


Cutaway view of vein


Cutaway view of vein


Cutaway view of vein

A damaged vein

If heredity, an injury, or a blood clot weakens a vein, the wall near the valve begins to sag. A valve keeps blood moving through the vein towards the heart. The valve may no longer close fully, allowing blood to move backward.


A “ropy” vein

Once a vein is damaged, blood pressing against the sagging wall may cause the vein to look like a twisted rope. Eventually, the valve can’t close. Blood may begin to pool or clot in the vein.


Pooling blood

A valve that doesn’t close allows blood to move backwards and sit (pool) in the vein.


Clotting blood

Blood that is not moving may form clots. Over time, the clot may grow big enough to close off the vein.

The problems that may occur from damage to the veins include: 

  • Varicose veins. This a swollen, twisted vein located close to the skin.

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This is a blood clot in 1 of the deep veins, usually of the legs. The clot can separate from the vein and travel to the lungs (pulmonary embolism or PE). In the lungs, the clot can cut off the flow of blood. These 2 conditions together are called venous thromboembolism (VTE).

  • Chronic venous insufficiency. This is a long-term problem with the veins not working well.

Your health care provider can give you more information on these conditions and how to prevent and treat them.

When to seek medical advice

Call your health care provider if you have pain, swelling, or redness in 1 of your legs. These are the symptoms of a blood clot.

Call 911 if you have chest pain, trouble breathing, a fast heartbeat, sweating, coughing (may cough up blood), or fainting. These are the symptoms of a blood clot that has traveled to the lungs. This is a medical emergency and may cause death. 


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