Olympic Swimmer Summer Sanders Wants Moms to Stop Ignoring This Painful Health Threat

summer sandersBeing the busy wonder women that we are, we often brush off nagging aches and pains. We chalk them up to nothing more than a long, stressful day. But that can be a serious mistake. One famous mom who knows that all too well is former U.S. Olympic swimmer and gold medalist Summer Sanders, who most recently served as a 2012 Summer Olympics commentator.

Sanders' legs began feeling tired and achy after her second pregnancy. She'd catch herself massaging her calves whenever she was sitting down. Initially, she assumed it was just a sign of getting older -- no big deal. But when her legs were aching so badly after a day trip to Disneyland with the kids, she suspected it was something more ... Turns out, she was suffering from chronic venous insufficiency, a progressive condition that typically manifests as varicose veins.

I recently caught up with her to talk about her experience with the condition, which inspired her involvement in the "Rethink Varicose Veins" campaign.

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Sanders acknowledges we usually think of varicose veins as something our mothers and grandmothers dealt with. She also felt that way, as her mom actually did suffer from them. She elaborated:

My mom likes to say they're hereditary -- you get them from your kids! I "gave" them to her when she was pregnant with me. I've always known what they were. [As a kid,] I used to call them "very close veins."

But she says, even though we envision someone older than us having them, varicose veins aren't just our mother's problem -- it's ours, too. The condition tends to be more prevalent in women who have been pregnant, have a family history, and who work a job that requires prolonged standing (like teachers and medical professionals). In fact, although it sounds counter-intuitive, being active, running, playing sports, etc. can take a toll on your veins, as well.

Another major misconception is that it's a cosmetic problem only. In addition to achiness and pain, the condition can also lead to a more serious form of venous disease called chronic venous insufficiency (CVI, which Sanders was diagnosed with) and result in swelling, restlessness, and fatigue of the legs, as well as skin damage and ulcers in more severe cases. Unnerving, sure! But Sanders is on a mission to inform women that we don't have to just grin and bear it.

She explains:

So many of my friends are just dealing with it, and you would never just deal with a toothache! You know it leads to something worse down the road. 30 million [people, predominantly women] are just dealing with it, and less than 10 percent are seeking treatment. ... I say to people all the time, you don’t want to live at 80 percent!

Sufferers are often advised to wear compression hose, avoid standing for long periods of time, and raise their legs when resting or sleeping. But in order to try to get back to her own personal 100 percent, Sanders decided to have a minimally invasive procedure to fix her varicose veins. She's now looking forward to running the Boston Marathon and says it'll be the first race where her legs "feel lighter" and she feels like things are "flowing better."

Love it! And love to hear how she's encouraging women everywhere to take control of their own health and stop ignoring nagging symptoms. We definitely deserve better than to just "deal with" our very real aches and pains.

Do you or anyone you know suffer from varicose veins? How are you/would you handle the condition?


Image via USA Swimming

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