Spider veins; why your doctor MUST see them

Spider veins, why your doctor MUST see them

Tiny little veins started appearing on my foot a year or so ago. Only on one leg and none higher than my ankle. They look very much like I fell asleep next to a creative three-year-old with a box of magic markers in hand. They weren’t painful, they didn’t cause swelling and so I ignored them, particularly in the winter when I could hide them with pants and socks. With sandal weather fast approaching, I paid particular attention to “Vein Clinic” TV ads and decided I would seek treatment to remove the unsightly vein and “knock years off my legs.” Following my primary doc’s recommendation I made an appointment with a Vascular Health clinic and thought longingly about how nice my legs would look post treatment.

I breezed into the vascular specialist appointment expecting to be told what I secretly thought, my once nice legs were aging like the rest of me. I took great pleasure in the fact I was the youngest one there. No need for a walker or a big clunky surgical boot for me, no sir. While I waited, I watched the waiting room video about the non-invasive surgical removal of spider veins, the common name for those squiggly lines. That would be me, I thought; they would discuss a non-surgical method of removing the unwanted tattoo-like marks from my ankle, while secretly making fun of my vanity. I was going to buy a pair of shoes to celebrate (and show off) my newly squiggle-free legs and maybe go for a pedicure.

My doctor breaks the news
The doctor however, took the visit a bit more seriously. After comparing my colorful left ankle to my thinner non-squiggly right leg, the doctor ordered an ultrasound. One pair of paper shorts and a legful of gel later, the technician spotted an area of concern. Turns out the Great Saphenous vein, which runs from the groin down to the foot along the inside of the leg, was slacking off. The usual culprit, the technician told me. Women are more than twice as susceptible to vein abnormalities than men, he said.

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Basically, the vascular specialist explained, the arteries in the body pump blood from the heart to the extremities. The veins bring the blood back to the heart and the process repeats itself like clockwork, all of your life. In my case, the clock was striking thirteen. The vein was failing at its job; not all the blood was coming back up my leg. Instead, blood was pooling in my lower leg resulting in tiny blood vessels dilating and appearing as spidery red and purple lines on my foot. I had varicose veins.

After my protests that varicose veins, those horrible wormy looking bulges that appeared on old people’s calves, could not happen to me, my physician briefed me. According to the doctor, anyone can have vein problems. Some people are at greater risk than others and I was scoring high on the risk factor list; I was female, ding! I’d been pregnant, ding! I had a job that kept me sitting most of the day ding! I was carrying extra weight, ding! And “your age,” that ugliest of symptoms. Ding, ding, ding, ding, and ding!

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My treatment options
The treatment was easy, that was the good news. I would wear compression stockings for the rest of my life. Old lady, ugly, geriatric support hose. Perhaps, I thought, he was joking, waiting to deliver a punch line. Surely, someone who loved the beach and shorts and skirts and heels couldn’t be expected to wear compression stockings all the darn time. Support hose belonged to old aunts and uncles who sat around and compared symptoms at family gatherings. Turns out the joke was on me.

More severe symptoms required surgical procedures done in office. My veins were minimal and likely to stay that way if I wore the stockings. Every day. For. The. Rest. Of. My. Life. Maybe I could carry a sign too, one that said, “Hey look at me, support hose! Dentures next!” Or maybe “Ask me about my hot flashes!” At least I could sit around at family gatherings and compare symptoms with my elders.

The doctor let me rant for a few minutes about shorts and skirts and unsightly socks and finally called a halt. I could wear the stockings, the doctor told me, or I could not. If I chose to go without, I could expect the colorful lines to get bigger and spread up my leg. I could expect to go from having tiny superficial spider veins to dangerous deep varicose veins. Even worse, I could expect to double my risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis, a large blood clot that completely blocks a vein, or even worse, breaks loose to rush to the heart, lungs or brain. With the support hose I could expect to prevent symptoms from worsening, decrease my risk of blood clots and eliminate the need for a surgical procedure. Your choice, he said, no one will force you to wear them. Well, if you put it that way…

Spider veins, why your doctor should see them

My new life with compression hose
So I got fitted for compression hose. I chose from a range of colors and went with a pair that look remarkably like black knee-highs. As they rang up my purchase the clerk told me I’d chosen a popular pair. Turns out their largest clientele group wasn’t aging baby boomers but athletes. Compression hose; they’re not just for former flower children anymore! Apparently compression stockings are the newest must have for runners or bikers.

So I took my socks, hidden in a plain paper bag, and went home to peruse my purchase. I looked at them for about 20 minutes as vanity and common sense fought a silent battle. I flipped through the brochure from the doctor’s office which described the horrors of Deep Vein Thrombosis, skin ulcers and chronic swelling from Vein Insufficiency, the technical term for what ailed my leg. I glanced at the illustrations of ankles swollen and overflowing over unsightly shoes and read detailed descriptions of surgical procedures. I glanced at pictures of my husband and my daughters.

I’m now on week two of wearing compression stockings. I wear them from the time I get up, till I go to bed. We went out for dinner the other night and I didn’t wear them. We walked in the park the other day and I wore them among half a dozen other people with knee highs and running shoes. Young, athletic people running and walking and not at all self-conscious about the socks that kept blood circulating in just the right sequence. That ache in my legs I thought was due to a day spent in heels is now gone. The spider veins are already fading just a bit. And my bruised vanity, well I’m working on it.

How I´m dealing with it
So here are my words of wisdom in a rambling form. When I was a younger woman, I wore 5 inch heels; they hurt my feet but they made my legs look great. I wore push up bras that left marks on my skin and never appeared in public without full makeup including fake eyelashes that hurt every time I peeled them off.

I’m still vain. In my early sixties, I still hate the idea that my body is starting to fail in a number of ways. I wish the hose came in a nice argyle pattern or pin stripes. The best I’ve been able to find on the Internet have bright colors and a butterfly pattern. Not my style but, guaranteed to extend my life by keeping my veins working correctly. If I was willing to suffer push up bras and Spanx to look good, you bet your ass I’m going to wear compression hose. Mother Nature may have screwed up but I won’t. Not this time!

Carol Dundas

Carol Dundas is happily retired and has reimagined herself as a prolific writer. She enjoys sharing her views on midlife relationships and the experience of being an empty-nester. She can be spotted driving her brand new car and using her AARP discount to fix the occasional fender bender.