story by Kate Leibsle
A bit of mystique surrounds the cause of the unsightly squiggles. In short, it’s the backing up of blood in a leg vein. When there is enough of a backup, the vein becomes dilated and bulges. Spider veins, which are thinner red or bluish marks, are close cousins.
Neither cousin is pretty, and varicose veins actually can lead to long-term problems, says Dr. Craig Schwartz, owner and medical director of Vein Centers for Excellence of Kansas City (11409 Ash St., Ste. B, Leawood). “The varicose vein can be an indication of an underlying vein problem,” he says. “Spider veins are really just cosmetic and don’t lead to long-term problems.”
There are a variety of factors at play for varicose veins, says Dr. Regina Nouhan, a surgeon at Monarch Plastic Surgery (4801 W. 135th St., Leawood).
“There can be hormonal causes—taking oral contraceptives, pregnancy, menopause—or an injury to a leg, generalized aging or a situation where you are sitting or standing for long periods of time,” she says. “Being overweight can also put pressure on the veins.”
Many sufferers don’t realize how much better they will feel after having the veins removed, says Dr. Richard Arnspiger, a vascular surgeon at Vascular Surgery Associates (7420 Switzer St., Shawnee). Sometimes a patient will seek treatment for looks but discover how much better he or she feels once the pressure is relieved, he says.
And vein problems aren’t limited to women. Although most of Schwartz’s and Nouhan’s patients are females, men also suffer. “Men have hair on their legs, so you don’t see them as much,” Nouhan says. “But I am seeing more and more men concerned about the appearance.” Age also isn’t a big factor, says Arnspiger. “I’ve seen patients as young as 13.”
Once diagnosed, there are several treatments available to patients. One is sclerotherapy, a process whereby the vein is injected with an irritant and collapses. The lining becomes “sticky,” Nouhan says, and heals together, causing blood flow to reroute to healthier veins. There also are laser therapies, such as endovenous laser ablation, where a laser fiber is inserted via catheter, heats the inside of the vein and closes it. A third option is an ambulatory phlebectomy whereby a micro incision is made and the vein is removed.
Most removal options can be done in a doctor’s office and patients are able to walk away and resume their day-to-day activities with caution. That’s a far cry from even just 10 years ago when treatments involved general anesthesia and much more recovery time, and most procedures are covered by insurance.
Nouhan and Schwartz stress that not all doctors and treatments are created equal. The lotions, creams or do-it-yourself treatments? Not effective, they say. “Some anti-inflammatories can help a bit,” Nouhan says, “but they’re not changing the underlying problem.” Schwartz cautions that there is no scientific evidence that the topicals work. “If you hear of someone having success, it’s purely anecdotal and one in a 1,000,” he says.
Schwartz also wants patients to research who can best treat their problem veins. “Ten years ago there were three vein centers in the metro area,” he says. “Now, there are 18. You can go and take a weekend course in vein treatment and not have any surgical training at all.
“Do your homework,” he says. “Ask for the doctor’s background. What are their certifications? Where did they study?” Dr. Schwartz and a handful of other local doctors are triple-certified and have extensive training.
Bottom line? Although there’s little to do in the way of preventing varicose veins, there are treatments available that will erase them, improve blood circulation and get you back into a pair of shorts in no time flat.
See amazing before and after pics HERE!