Summer is here and it’s time for sun dresses and shorts. Don’t let spider or varicose veins keep your legs under wraps instead of basking in the sun.
Q: What do Rihanna, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tina Turner, Heidi Klum, and Riverdance’s Michael Flatley all have in common?
A: All have reportedly insured their legs for millions of dollars. (Flatley’s legs are insured for the princely sum of $40 million; Turner’s spectacular gams for the bargain price of $3.2 million.)
Along with flat bellies, bodacious booties, and flawless smiles, thin, smooth, long legs are a point of pride. And so we — women especially — devote hours to their care: working them out, removing their hair, exfoliating dead skin, and moisturizing the living. But it doesn’t always matter how hard we spin or how many gallons of spray tan we blast ourselves with, unsightly veins can pop up and ruin even the healthiest set of pins.
Those itsy, bitsy spider veins
If you’ve been to the beach, you’ve seen the most common kind of problem vein — the so-called spider veins. A thin network of red and/or blue veins, these unsightly, but harmless and painless, veins can pop up anywhere — but are usually seen creeping their way down the thighs or calves, like bloody little arachnids.
Dr. Mark Rayman, founder of Beach Cities Vein & Laser Center in El Segundo, California, describes these veins as “sometimes red and sometimes blue … they don’t protrude — they’re usually flush with the skin.” Proving that these annoying little veins are an equal opportunity offender, he admits that he used to have them until his wife gave him a hard time about it. “She said, ‘You know, you’re a vein doctor — you need to treat those!’”
Rayman got into the vein game via his previous specialty, vascular and interventional radiology. He’s been doing vascular procedures for 20 years and says, “Sometime around 2003, I realized that all of my various skills are perfectly suited to the vein world because state of the art diagnosis of varicose veins is ultrasound guided.”
While the legs are the most common place to find spider veins, many people get them on their face or other parts of their body. Lisa, a 41-year-old Arizona-based naturopath has had “horrible” spider veins on her chest and thighs since she was a teenager caused by trauma injury. “I was trampled at the first Lollapolooza during Nine Inch Nails,” she says. “I tried several methods of removal and they just got worse.”
Rayman says that technology has come a long way since the days when doctors used painful saline injections to treat the problem. Nowadays, spider veins are more safely and effectively treated with new advanced sclerosing agents, FDA-approved chemical solutions that make the veins disappear without the risk of hyper-pigmentation or even ulcerations. “Some people, who do veins on the side and not as the heart of their practice, still use saline,” Rayman says, “but I’d never use it.”
Rayman says there’s also a new machine called the Vein Gogh that is especially good for smaller veins on the face and ankles. “It’s magical,” he says. “The machine has a tiny needle that is inserted under microscopic guidance and a little electrical device emits little pulses of energy that just zaps the spider veins away.” The cost varies depends on the size of the area and sometimes people need to come back for follow up treatments.
But not everyone is willing to pay for what amounts to a cosmetic procedure. Catia Harrington, a psychotherapist in New York City laughs, “My spider veins are such that people ask me how I got the ‘bruises’ on the backs of my knees. I’ve done nothing about them, mostly because it’s not covered by insurance and they are on the backs of my legs, so I don’t have to look at them.” But not everyone is ready to accept permanent “bruises” especially when there’s a way to make them disappear.
Varicose veins – a more serious problem
Whereas spider veins are usually painless, varicose veins are ugly on the outside and the inside. “They’re big, bulging, ropey veins that protrude, usually coming off of a large vein in the thigh and they can hurt,” says Rayman. Both types of veins can be passed down through families, but the varicose variety can also pop up for a number of other reasons, including pregnancy, obesity, and spending too much time on ones feet.
Back in our mothers’ day the cure for this condition was nearly as debilitating as the problem itself. “They used to strip the veins,” Rayman explains. “It involved making an incision at the ankle or inner part of knee, and then the surgeon goes into the vein and threads in a pin-stripper — a long metal probe inside the vein. Then they’d make a three-inch incision at the groin and rip it out of the leg.”
And then there was the recovery time, which could be extensive, and since the veins were ripped and not sealed shut, there was no guarantee that they wouldn’t return at some later date.
Today, however, things are a whole lot more civilized. At Beach Cities Vein & Laser, Rayman interviews the patient and then puts them through a screening ultrasound — which he, not a technician, performs. Depending on the results, either an endovenous laser treatment (ELT) or a radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is scheduled.
Both of these surgeries involve local anesthesia, tiny incisions, and laser or radiofrequency energy to shut down the problem vein. “I had one patient who we did an RFA on, who was texting work during the procedure,” Rayman says. “He went back to the office the same day, and was skiing the next weekend.”
But of course as with any surgeries, there can be dangers. Natalie Slater went to a Chicago vein clinic for what was supposed to be a simple RFA and wound up in the hospital with blood clots in her lungs caused by a deep vein thrombosis. Her surgeon ignored her complaints about pain until it got so bad she went to the emergency room. “My first night in the hospital they had me on a monitor and my heart stopped. If I had been at home I would’ve died.”
Rayman advises that complications are extremely rare, and says that when one of his patients complains of excessive pain, he urges them to come in immediately for an ultrasound to make sure everything is okay. “It usually turns out to be nothing, but it’s important to give my patients peace of mind.” He also says that people can reduce uncertainty about a doctor’s skill and training by checking to see if they are certified by the American Board of Venous and Lymphatic Medicine.
An ounce of prevention
Of course not everyone needs to opt for medical intervention. Karen Sweat, a 52-year-old musician and cosmetologist from Florida had been plagued by spider veins ever since having her first child 22 years ago. “I started to notice my veins in my thirties. And then they stopped multiplying about the time I stopped eating processed foods and got off of caffeine and artificial sweetener. I don’t know if that contributed, but I have the same amount of veins now at 52 as I did when I was 30.”
Sweat’s 22-year-old son suffers from painful varicose veins and Sweat believes diet could play a part in his problems. “Although a raw and organic chef, he still eats like a 22-year-old — lot of fats and junk, though he is skinny as a rail.”
Rayman often advises would-be patients to give non-surgical options a try before committing to surgery. Weight loss, an increase in exercise, elevating the legs a couple hours each day, and regularly wearing extremely unattractive — but effective — compression stockings can all help. And if none of those help, there are always medical options.
“All of these new techniques are geared to cause so little discomfort that the patients actually enjoy themselves during them — even for the more serious problems,” Rayman says. “We talk, enjoy music, and then they’re able to walk to their cars on their own afterward.”
Check out our “Luscious Legs Beauty Brunch” on Saturday, May 17, from 10-1 p.m. where you can meet Dr. Rayman and get your questions answered, enjoy champagne and appetizers, receive a $100 gift bag and enter drawings for beauty treatments.
Copyright © Judy McGuire/2014 Singular Communications, LLC.