Varicose veins: two nasty little words and a beauty ailment we all hope to avoid. Unfortunately, wishing and hoping will only get you so far (and that’s not very). To dispel some myths and get the truth about leg veins, we pumped Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, DC, for all the information we could get. Consider yourself forewarned: we’re not sugarcoating any of it.
Keep reading for all the cold, hard facts about varicose veins.
Varicose Veins And Spider Veins Are Not The Same
Varicose veins and spider veins are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but while they’re both unsightly, they’re not quite the same thing. “Spider veins are smaller, flat, red or purple veins,” Dr. Tanzi says. “Varicose veins are the large blue ones that bulge out. The difference is in the size of the veins. Lots of women have little spider veins, but the bulging blue big varicose veins are less common, and require stronger treatments.”
You Actually Don’t Need The Veins That Cause Varicose Veins
This may sound hard to believe, but the veins that can turn into varicose veins aren’t actually necessary to your body’s circulatory system. Dr. Tanzi says there are two vein systems in your body, deep veins and superficial veins. Deep veins are essential for pumping blood to and from the heart. Superficial veins are much closer to the surface and not necessary in the process. That’s why you can treat them without harming your body.
Varicose Veins Have Defective Valves
So what causes an innocent superficial vein to turn into a vicious varicose vein? According to Dr. Tanzi, it’s the valves. The valves in leg veins are supposed to pump blood up to the heart. In varicose veins, those valves don’t work properly, so the blood pools and causes the veins to stretch. And how did they get that way? Unfortunately, Dr. Tanzi says the reason is primarily genetic.
Those Old-School Compression Socks Actually Work
Sometimes the simplest solution works best—as is the case with compression socks. Dr. Tanzi reassured us that they’ve come a long way, and now you can find plenty of good (read: not hideous) options online. They work because they keep leg veins compressed, so the blood can’t pool. She recommends wearing them on long flights, or if you’re going to be to be standing for long periods of time. She also mentioned that compression socks come highly recommended from many female surgeons, who wear them during their multi-hour shifts in the operating room.
There Are Two Effective Treatment Options for Leg Veins Caught Early
If you treat them while they’re still small, the improvements can be impressive. One option is to inject the veins with saline. According to Dr. Tanzi, saline irritates the vein to the point where it completely shuts down. Mild cases usually only require about two treatments. For moderate varicose veins, she says three or four sessions will be needed. The injections usually cost around $200-$350 for a session. You may have some stinging at the injection site for about an hour after the treatment—nothing a little Tylenol can’t handle. Most people are up on their feet again the next day, but you’ll want to wear pants because the bruising can last up to two weeks.
For people who are wary of needles, there’s the laser option. Dr. Tanzi says the Nd:YAG laser will heat the blood, which shrinks the vein until it closes down entirely. Prices varies by severity, but generally the cost is about $150-$250. There’s no downtime involved, but you will be a little red for up to two days.
Hope Is Not Lost For Larger Leg Veins
Bigger varicose veins require a slightly more invasive treatment. For larger leg veins, Dr. Tanzi suggests an internal laser, like the Endovenous laser. The treatment is similar to the laser treatment for small-to-medium veins, but with this one the laser actually goes inside the veins, and heats them up from the inside out, which in turn shrinks them down. Cost and downtime vary, so consult your doctor, but most patients resume normal activity within two weeks of surgery.
Whichever treatment route you take, Dr. Tanzi says a minimal of 6-8 weeks are needed in between treatments because it takes a while to start to see a difference.
Treat Them Early, But Not Too Early
As with most issues in life, the earlier you start to address them, the better the results will be. But—and this is a substantial but—Dr. Tanzi recommends you hold off on any medical treatment of varicose veins until after you’re done having kids. Why? “Because pregnancy always makes leg veins worse, and you don’t want to undo the treatment.” Oh, the miracle of life.
What other body beauty concerns do you have? Let us know in the comments and we’ll find the solutions for you.