Varicose Veins: How to Ease—and Erase—Them
What causes those unsightly lines on your legs and how to get rid of the road maps.
Do you choose your outfits based on how much of your legs they’ll hide? Forget swimsuits, shorts and to-the-knee skirts—even wearing sandals or capris can seem out of the question when your ankles and feet are also covered with blue and green lines.
Varicose veins and other vein issues become more common as women age. Wear and tear on vein walls and valves allows pressure and blood to build up, causing veins to expand and darken in color. Plus, skin’s support system of collagen and elastin tissues weakens over time and thanks to sun exposure, which allows veins to grow even larger.
But there are ways, thankfully, to treat the three main vein problems so you can sport a pair of shorts with confidence by summer. Here’s a rundown of the problems and best solutions.
Varicose Veins — These bulging, rope-like veins can appear flesh-colored, because they’re typically located far beneath skin’s surface, or have a blue or green tint. For many (up to 70 percent of people, according to Weiss), varicose veins are more than just unsightly; they can also cause painful symptoms like stinging, aching or burning.
Treatments: Dr. Margaret Weiss, a dermatologist at the Maryland Laser, Skin & Vein Institute in Hunt Valley, Maryland recommends talking to your doctor about getting an ultrasound to see whether a leaking saphenous vein is an underlying problem. If one of these main leg veins is leaking blood into the tributary veins, it will need to be sealed with a laser in order to prevent future varicose veins from popping up. There are also plenty of surgical and non-surgical solutions for dealing with varicose veins of all severities. Check out the sidebar for details.
Spider Veins — While spider veins do not bulge above the skin’s surface and aren’t usually associated with painful symptoms, they can be just as distressing as varicose veins. These red, blue or purple lines are usually very thin and form one of three characteristic patterns: a spider web radiating out from a central point; a pattern that looks like the branches of a tree; or a simple grouping of fine lines.
Treatments: Spider veins are easily diagnosed by sight and are seen as the least problematic type of vein issue to treat. “Sclerotherapy works faster and is cheaper than lasers for superficial veins,” according to Weiss, who believes that her office treats around 90 percent of its patients with vein issues using this method, which involves injecting a chemical into the problem veins to seal them shut and turn them into less visible scar tissue.
Reticular Veins — Larger and darker than spider veins but smaller and less bulging than varicose, reticular veins run slightly below skin’s surface and are most often seen on the upper legs, running toward the back of the thighs and down toward the knees. Often, reticular veins are the source of spider veins, so working to eliminate them can reduce the occurrence of both types of veins.
Treatment: Sclerotherapy is again the most common method of treatment, though surface laser treatments may be prescribed. With laser therapy, strong pulses of light are delivered to the veins, which gradually fades them. Lasers do not work on all skin types and colors, though, so be sure to speak with a vein expert before undergoing any form of treatment.