Self-conscious about unsightly veins? Tips for relief

Posted July 01, 2013, at 12:52 p.m.

Every summer thousands of people flock to Maine for sailing, hiking and fun in the sun. But people with vein problems can be acutely affected in the summer, both physically and emotionally.

It’s the veins’ job to carry de-oxygenated blood back to the heart. The blood in the legs travels up against gravity, so when the valves in the veins become damaged, blood “leaks” back into the legs and creates a “pooling” effect, which can result in varicose veins or even leg ulcers.

Most varicose veins worsen during the summer months because the heat dilates veins. In other words, warmer temperatures can expand the veins, making a “leaky vein” leak even more and causing increased achiness or tenderness.

In addition to physical pain or discomfort, people with vein problems go to great lengths to keep their legs covered, making it hard to enjoy the summer months. Self-consciousness about veins can lead to unease in social situations and, ultimately, a diminished quality of life. For many of my patients with venous disease, just showing their legs in public is their end goal.

The treatments for venous problems are the same during the summer as the rest of the year. Minimally invasive treatments include: light-assisted sclerotherapy for small veins; ultrasound-guided therapy for larger veins; and endovenous laser ablations (EVLA) for the largest veins.

After treatment, most patients who have undergone any type of sclerotherapy can go out in the sun almost immediately, although wearing sunblock for six months after any vein procedure is recommended to decrease the possibility of hyperpigmentation. It’s usually fine to swim twenty-four hours after any vein treatment. Generally, there will be some minimal bruising, but there are many self-tanners and cosmetics that can cover them up — short-term options that are generally preferred over a bulging varicose vein.

It’s important to remember that compression stockings are prescribed after any vein procedure. The length of time one must wear the stockings varies quite a bit, depending upon the patient and the procedure. It could be as short as three days for light-assisted sclerotherapy, or as long as two weeks for endovenous laser ablations or ambulatory phlebectomies.

If someone with varicose veins, spider veins or ulcers is not ready to undergo a vein procedure immediately, summer is still a good time to think about vein health. Scheduling an evaluation with a certified phlebologist allows people to learn about their venous issues and review their options for treatment. It can take several months or more for the complete resolution of veins after treatment, so people can plan to show off their legs next summer by getting an evaluation now.

Tips for relief and prevention

Here are some tips for relieving symptoms from varicose veins and other vein problems:

· Stay as cool as possible. Heat dilates veins and causes pain and other symptoms to worsen.

· Swim and walk. Both exercises pump the calf muscles and improve circulation.

· Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and other fluids.

· Elevate the legs whenever possible.

· Wear graduated compression stockings. Wearing compression stockings all day will keep the legs feeling as good at the end of the day as in the morning.

Dr. Cindy Asbjornsen is the founder of the Vein Healthcare Center in South Portland.

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