You're So Vein-y
But you don’t have to be. Improved treatments can eliminate spider and varicose veins along with the discomfort they can cause.
About 15 years ago, I was a freshly minted divorcée about to enter the dating scene, so, of course, I wanted to look my best before getting back into the game. A critical self-appraisal revealed that a network of purplish-red spider veins made my legs look like a road map. Determined to get a leg up on the competition, I decided to have sclerotherapy, a saline-based liquid injection into the veins. It was the best treatment available at the time.
The saline sealed off the veins, causing them to disappear, but I was unprepared for the stinging, burning and cramping that the procedure caused—akin to pouring salt in a wound. I suffered through a single session and vowed never to return.
Happily for current spider vein sufferers, sclerotherapy solutions are now saline-free, so the discomfort has been reduced to the tiny (the smallest gauge available) needle pricks required to inject the solution. Those with an aversion to needles can opt for laser treatments to zap spider veins on the legs and elsewhere.
Superficial spider veins shouldn’t be confused with varicose veins, says Dr. Alan Wladis of Florida Hospital and the Vascular Institute of Central Florida. “Spider veins are the little veins that people see on their legs; varicose are the big ropy veins. In layman’s terms, that’s the biggest difference,” says Wladis. “They do form for similar reasons—hormones, pressure, people who stand a lot, heavier people. Anyone with increased pressure on their legs is going to be more prone.”
Men and women with varicose veins can experience great discomfort, including swelling, pain and a feeling of heaviness in the legs. At one time, the standard procedure for eliminating them was called stripping, the removal of the vein through an incision. “Vein stripping was tortuous and very painful with a long recovery,” says Dr. Mark Ranson, also with Florida Hospital and the Vascular Institute. Varicose veins are now most commonly treated with an ultrasound-guided laser, which seals the vein. After a treatment, a patient’s legs are wrapped in bandages to combat pain and swelling; the bandages are replaced after 24 hours with heavy-duty support hose for two to six weeks.
When spider or varicose veins are sealed off, other veins take over blood circulation, says Wladis. “It is important to look at the deep veins and see how they’re functioning before taking out surface veins.’’
Sclerotherapy treatment for spider veins may take more than one session, at approximately $350 each. Because it’s considered a cosmetic procedure, most insurance plans don’t cover it. However, many insurance providers do cover laser treatments of varicose veins that cause pain and discomfort. A laser treatment runs $1,400 and up.
Twice as many women as men suffer from varicose veins, but neither should ignore the symptoms, says Ranson. People often don’t associate leg pain with vein problems, he says. “Men especially neglect that. A common misperception is that all veins are cosmetic and don’t cause symptoms; they think those aches and pains are just part of life. You can get remarkable improvement in quality of life with the treatment of bad veins.”
My vein-treatment encounter all those years ago might have been painful, but it did make my legs look considerably better for Round Two of my dating years. Recently, I dared to have a second session, but only after I found out about the saline-free option. Now that unsightly veins can be treated almost painlessly, I won’t hesitate to undergo another session if more crop up as an inevitable part of aging. My husband couldn’t be happier, now that the term “Mapquest” doesn’t immediately spring to mind when he looks at my legs.