Treat Those Leg Veins Before Winter’s End

leg-veinOne phenomenon I notice every winter is that more and more people want the unsightly spider veins on their legs treated.  Possibly, their legs are more pale from absence of sun exposure, and their leg veins show up more.

Perhaps they regret how their legs looked last summer, and want to start off this beach and pool season right.  Different people have different reasons, but regardless, the flood of requests continues.  I keep on thinking that with all the legs I have treated in central Maine thus far, demand will eventually decrease, but it never does.

In any event, over the past 10 years, laser treatment of spider veins on the legs has become the gold standard treatment.  Back in the “old days” of the 1980s and 1990s, injection (or sclerotherapy) was the only treatment, but very few doctors use that method anymore for smaller veins.  Sclerotherapy still has a place for larger more varicose veins, and I do refer patients to those providers when necessary.

Laser-Vein-Therapy-for-LegsHow does the laser work on these veins?  Basically, the particular wavelength of the laser I use is strong enough to reach deep enough under the skin to effect these types of veins.

Also, this wavelength is attracted to the color of the blood within the blood vessel.  When the very precise laser beam (on average 2-3 millimeters in diameter) hits the blood vessel, it causes a very rapid heating of the blood which, in turn, causes the blood vessel to collapse on itself.

This snapping shut of the blood vessel makes it look suddenly smaller.  In some cases, the process makes the vessel look as though it just disappears.

When the vessel snaps shut, the person feels a very brief, sharp discomfort, similar to the feeling of a rubber band snapping against their skin.  Fortunately, this pain does not persist.

MoS2 Template MasterAfter the vein is closed for several minutes, much of the absorbed heat rises to the surface of the skin, giving what is know as the “cat scratch” effect.  The name for this effect is essentially very descriptive in that the skin is slightly raised and red where the laser traced and collapsed the blood vessels, as if a cat scratched the area.

Cold compresses are applied right after the treatment to absorb much of this heat.  Cold, specifically the use of mild topical hydrocortisone and wrapping the area with gauze and/or ace wraps, lessens this appearance by the next day.

So what happens to the blood vessel and blood after that?  Basically, your body’s immune defense system gets the signal through a chain of biochemical events that an injury has occurred in this area.  This is analogous to what happens when you have a bruise.

The body’s immune cells scavenge around the area, removing the damaged cells and, in the process, dismantling the blood vessel walls and the blood itself.  All of the building blocks of this scavenging are either recycled within the body or filtered out by your spleen and liver.

Another very common question I get is this: Where does the circulation now go, and am I doing something bad to my circulation by doing this? This a great question, as it frequently isn’t nice to mess with Mother Nature.

varicose-vein_before_afterBut, the answer is that those spider veins are abnormal in the first place.  They formed either due to trauma to the area or as a result of increased pressure within the blood vessels that could not be normally handled, and these accessory veins formed.  When I close those blood vessels, the circulation will flow into the deeper and larger blood vessels where it should flow anyway.

When these veins get reabsorbed, each individual vein will be gone permanently.  However, if you have more trauma to your legs or more seasons for increased venous pressure (such as pregnancy, or long hours/years standing on your feet at a job), new spider veins may form.

However, at least by clearing the previous veins, you are starting with a clean slate.  Also, you can practice prevention methods such as wearing compression stocking while at work, a very common habit among nurses.

Although it feels like summer is right around the corner with its longer days and higher temperatures, there is still plenty of time to clean up the vein appearance of your legs before any real beach or pool weather arrives, especially here in Maine.  If you have any questions about leg veins or if you want to know what the best therapy is for your specific case, please do not to hesitate to call (207) 873-2158 for a free consultation.

About Dr. John Burke

John Burke M.D. has practiced medicine for over 25 years, and is the founding partner of MidMaine Internal Medicine. He established Maine Laser Skin Care in 2004 after devoting years to learning the latest in laser and dermatologic technology. Dr. Burke has treated patients from all over the United States. He is one of Maine's busiest practitioners in laser treatments, and in the use of Botox for upper facial lines and excessive sweating.
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