Vein Free Legs: We Tried Sclerotherapy
I am from a family of all women. I have a sister, my mom has two sisters, and my grandmother comes from a family of sisters. One thing we all have in common: spider and varicose veins. When I was young, I used to stare at the tiny blue branch-like lines that ran the length of my mother’s legs, and the site of them stuck with me. I somehow knew they were coming my way, one day. That day is here.
I first started seeing leg veins in my early 30s, and began sclerotherapy immediately. This involves a cosmetic doctor injecting a sclerosant solution into problem veins, which dries up all the tiny cells lining the blood vessel, causing the targeted vein to collapse. Your body then absorbs the vein naturally over a period of weeks, and then it disappears. Sclerotherapy for leg veins is…. well, it doesn’t feel good. I had been warned that I would feel a burning sensation as the solution is injected into my veins. (For more detailed information, visit our treatment resource on Sclerotherapy). Aside from the pain, the post treatment care is also, quite frankly, a pain. After treatment you are forced to wear horribly ugly compression hose for the course of 2-3 weeks. Thus, Sclerotherapy is a treatment best done in fall or winter months when you can cover up those ugly hose with pants or boots.
But, despite the injection pain and horribly ugly hose, you will see great results. At least I did.
My first visit with Dr. Karen involved a full-scale investigation of every single visible vein on my legs from hips to toes. She confirmed that there were no underlying health problems causing their emergence, and that my issue was purely cosmetic in nature. Thanks mom! But, even though upon initial inspection I qualified as a good candidate for sclerotherapy, I wasn’t able to get injected right away because we still had to wait for the results of the supporting blood work. Bummer, as I had cleared out my entire workday afternoon and was hoping to get the job done. But, she insisted we needed to wait for results to be safe—can’t argue with that.
The “fun” began on my second visit. Since a cosmetic doctor can only administer a certain amount of the solution at one time, you have to pick your target areas wisely. We discussed which areas bothered me the most to prioritize our plan of attack. For starters, we settled on a large blue vein up the side of my calf and several other ones on the back of my knees. Then, I laid down on the table and, with the help of an assisting nurse, Dr. Karen began to administer the injections.
The best way to describe the pain is as a series of small burning sensations. That said, the burning feeling from a single injection lasts no more than 20 seconds. Dr. Karen is particularly good at administering the injections, because she works quickly so it’s over as soon as possible, but also gives you a brief moment to take a breather when pain begins to be too much. The nurse is always nearby to compress the collapsed vein and put a tiny bandage on it as soon as Dr. Karen is done with the injection. At the end of the session, I had about 30-40 tiny injection sites and the same number of tiny bandages covering my legs.
Some important advice that I can offer after having had multiple sclerotherapy treatments: First, invest in a quality pair of compression hose (about $80) before your first injection, or you may be able to buy some at the doctor’s office. A nurse will help you get them on after your injections are over and they’re pretty uncomfortable, but you have to wear them for 24 hours and then only during the daytime for several more weeks. This is the doctor’s advice for best results. Honestly, I can say that I do cheat a bit. I am not sure what’s more uncomfortable—the hose or the tiny taped up bandages. Maybe it’s the combination of the two. Also, on injection day, wear loose pants, a long skirt, or, my favorite, sweatpants. And keep in mind that you can’t run or lift leg weights for 7-10 days. Finally, you should not get this procedure done while you’re tan or planning to get a lot of sun, so that the tiny injection sites won’t scar. The spring is a good time to do it, so you can look vein-free for summer.
I find that sclerotherapy injections work very well on smaller veins. Sometimes the same vein needs to be done more than once, but all in all, there is a noticeable difference. The large blue vein running down the side of my calf is gone, and the ugly blue network on the back of my knee has been diminished. I know I’m fighting an uphill battle, but, now when I get ready for summer and look forward to heading to the beach for a much-needed getaway, I can wear my shorts and skirts with confidence.