My Experiences With Endovenous Laser Treatments For Varicose Veins
The Great Saphenous Vein And Small Saphenous Vein Are The Ones Treated Most Often With Endovenous Laser Treatments
It Kind Of Creeped Me Out To Watch This, So I'm Glad I Watched After All My Procedures Were Finished!
I Had Four Veins Treated In Less Than Two Weeks ~
Undergoing Endovenous laser treatment recently for four malfunctioning veins in my legs was quite the learning experience!
The veins that I had treated are called the great saphenous veins (the veins in the upper thigh area) and the small saphenous veins, (in the back of the legs behind the knee down to a little above the ankle). The small saphenous veins actually used to be called lesser saphenous veins. The name was recently changed to small saphenous veins.
This was a part of my education in "all I ever wanted to know about varicose veins." You can learn a lot by listening to the surgeon as he is working and talking to his assistants while procedures are being done. If you have a medical student watching in on the procedures like I did, you get the chance to learn even more!
I ended up having a total of four veins treated with Endovenous Laser Therapy. Welcome to the 21st Century! Years ago, a procedure like the ones that I had done were done in a surgical process that was then known as "vein stripping," where the leg veins were actually removed from the legs. This newer laser process is actually minimally invasive, resulting in virtually no down time, no time off work and not nearly as much pain or recovery time as there is in standard surgical procedures.
One of the first things I learned when I began this adventure is that it is not wise to go to a cosmetic surgery facility simply to have unattractive spider veins treated with a process called Sclerotherapy. If you do that, you have a good chance of those veins coming BACK again, requiring you to have to repeated treatments, wasting your time, effort and money! Since the procedures for purple and red spider veins are considered to be cosmetic, the cost comes out of your pocket!
This was why I actually went to this surgical center in the first place, in the hope of having these unattractive spider veins treated so I can wear things like shorts again. The thing is, the way it was explained to me is that first of all, you have to get rid of the "underlying" vein problem, the one that is causing the spider veins in the first place, or else you will most likely waste your time with Sclerotherapy treatments.
This is an important thing to remember. Those spider veins are there for a reason... there are probably other veins in your legs, larger veins, that are not working properly and are allowing blood to "pool" in certain areas. Treat the large veins first and STOP the problem, then you can go on and have the small (ugly) spider veins treated.
The heart pumps blood throughout the body through arteries, into the legs. Veins in the legs take the blood that is no longer needed, and then small "valves" are supposed to send the un-oxygenated blood back to the heart. This is what happens when veins are working properly. Veins that are not working properly have faulty valves, there is reflux going on, and the blood is not being sent back to the heart the way it should be. It is being allowed to "pool" in certain parts of your legs, creating varicose veins (the large, bulging, often rope-like veins) that can also be unsightly.
I only had actual varicose veins in one leg and that is also the leg with the most severe spider veins. My other leg also had faulty valves, normally known as "venous insufficiency" so that's why I ended up having both legs treated. I had both great saphenous veins done and both of the lower leg (small saphenous veins) done.
Determining if a patient has venous insufficiency or vein reflux is done by ultrasound. It's a very easy, painless test and lets the doctor know what is going on in your vein system and what the reasons are for the issues you are having. You can have symptoms like tiredness in your legs, a heavy, aching feeling, especially when you are required to be on your feet a lot.
In my situation, I believe the varicose veins were caused, or at least made worse, by a combination of three common things: Heredity, certain hormones more prevalent in pregnancy like estrogen, and doing a job in retail for almost 14 years that required a LOT of standing, walking and being on my feet.
I had a twin pregnancy, which meant higher than normal levels of estrogen for the time of the pregnancy, and I believe I have always had higher than normal levels of estrogen anyway because of other symptoms I had, especially during menopause.
Men can also experience varicose veins and spider veins, only they tend to have less of them and they seem to happen less often in men. In men, the main causes are heredity and an occupation where one is required to do a lot of standing exacerbates the issue. When I was having treatments done, there was a man having them as well. He was a retired school teacher.
Treatment Day ~ Day 1, Treatment Of The Left Leg, Great Saphenous Vein
My first treatment was definitely an eye opener, and many things happened that I did not expect. I really feel like I should have done more research into what I was having done before I had it, then some of the things might not have come as such a surprise. I guess in a way, though, I was afraid that too much information would lead me to change my mind and decide not to go through with it, since I can be squeamish about medical procedures. I watched this video, but I am VERY glad I watched it AFTER all my treatments were done. It was interesting to see what was actually done, though.
When you are on the table being prepped to have the procedure, a sterile drape is placed over your arms, so you can't see any of what is being done. I was given two stress balls to squeeze when something was painful, those puppies ended up getting squeezed a bit!
The procedure begins with an injection of numbing medication on the inside of your thigh, near your knee (when you are having the great saphenous vein treated). I honestly thought that they were going to make an incision. I found out later that they simply insert a large needle, and through that large needle, a smaller fiber optic type tube is run up into the vein in your leg. As they are threading this tube into your vein, you continue to receive injections of numbing medication at certain points that follow along the route of the catheter.
Honestly, I thought the numbing medication wasn't working on me because it seemed like I felt an awful lot of what was being done. I was told later that the numbing medication is given to keep you from feeling the burning pain from the laser. It isn't meant to keep you from feeling the other stuff.
At any rate, one of the assistants told me I was getting pretty "pale" and asked if I was OK. I felt pretty light-headed for a few minutes there. I think it was my thoughts of what was going on more so than what was actually happening, if that makes sense. I think a lot of times our imagination can be much worse than what is actually happening, and I can have a pretty vivid imagination at times!
Once the catheter is inserted all the way, another shot of numbing medication is given at the highest point of the laser. Then they turn on the laser and you hear a high pitched sound. They slowly work their way down the length of the vein, the laser burns the vein, causing both swelling and scar tissue to build, and eventually closes off the blood flow to that vein. During this time is when you get a bizarre taste in your mouth.
Once they get back to the point they started, the laser is withdrawn and you have a sterile gauze pad placed on the point where the large needle entered. You have a band-aid put there, and then the medical assistants place a compression stocking on your leg, which is to be worn around the clock for seven days and nights. You sleep in the stocking, shower in it and just keep it on the leg, applying constant compression to the leg, for seven straight days.
You might ask if you need those veins and the answer is no. The veins being treated are malfunctioning and are causing blood to go where it ends up pooling and causing problems. The other veins in your legs take over for the vein that is now closed, sending the blood into a working, well functioning vein where, hopefully, blood will now be able to return to the heart the way it is supposed to.
I'm hoping that by having this done, I will feel better when we are walking and maybe even have more energy. I know that living in Las Vegas, we do a LOT of walking. Anyone who has ever visited here knows the amount of walking you can do in one day! I'm hoping that having veins that work right will help to end that tired, aching, heavy feeling that I would get sometimes when I was on my feet too much.
I hope I Don't Turn Into A Marlboro... Person!
The Strangest Part Of Having EVLT Treatment
Probably the oddest thing about having these treatments done to my veins was a freaky-weird taste in my mouth when they were firing up the laser. I have read that the taste is from the destruction of protein in the vein walls. As your blood circulates through your body, the taste works its way up into your mouth.
They described it as either burnt coffee, cigarettes, or like licking an ashtray. I would have to go with the cigarettes or licking the ashtray (even though I've never actually done that!) It was such an odd, unexpected side effect. It went away after the laser was turned off, sometimes lingering just a bit for a couple minutes, but for the most part it went away. THAT was weird.
Others described it as garlic or a broccoli taste, I don't know what they were smoking... pun fully intended! I thought it tasted like cigarettes, although I could not say what brand! It was really an odd experience.
Day 2 ~ Treatment Of The Small Saphenous Vein On The Lower Leg
I have to admit, after that first experience when I turned white as a sheet, causing the medical assistant to ask if I was OK because I looked like I might faint, I was kind of dreading having to go through all this again THREE more times. My thought was, I've already come this far, might as well continue. No sense starting and then quitting not even half-way through.
The second vein I had done was on the lower part of the left leg. It began down near the ankle, close to the middle of the calf. I can tell you one thing. There is a definite reason why you see a lot of people with tattoo's on the calf of their leg and NOT on the inner thigh. The pain factor is unbelievably different! It is like night and day!
I hardly had any pain at all during the second procedure. This vein is smaller anyway than the great saphenous vein. The injections you get of the numbing medication are hardly even bothersome, and the procedure seems like it is over in 1/2 the time. When I had the compression stocking put back on and was walking around, I completely expected pain... I kept waiting for it, for that ball to drop... and it never did. I virtually had NO pain from the second procedure, making it a lot easier than the first one! Even hours later when the numbing medicine wore off, I honestly can say I had an occasional feeling of maybe being pinched in the back of my leg, nothing else. The difference was dramatic.
The Third And Fourth Procedures ~
This experience made going through the third procedure, the great saphenous vein in my right leg, easier to bear knowing that this was probably the only other procedure I was going to have that was going to cause noticeable pain and discomfort. And that is exactly the way it happened. I had the third vein done on a Thursday, and the last one done on Friday morning. Because the last one was a small saphenous vein on my right leg, my experience of very little pain was fantastic to experience.
I had a euphoric feeling once they were all done, knowing that now all I had to do is recover from all the procedures. I have bruising, especially on the insides of my thighs where the great saphenous veins were treated, but that should go away within several weeks.
I had an ultrasound done one week after all was done and was told that everything looks fantastic. NOW, I can have those UGLY spider veins done... in as little as two weeks if I want to begin those treatments so soon after having these all done. I think I'm going to wait, though, until after the one month check to have them done.
The treatment for spider veins is called Sclerotherapy, which is done using injections directly into the spider veins, causing them to almost immediately collapse and disappear. I watched a video showing someone having these treatments done, and it was absolutely amazing to watch! The veins really DO look as if they are disappearing as the treatment is done! I will have to write another hub when I get those treatments.
For now, I am going to go sip on some coconut pineapple flavored water underneath a palm tree and enjoy the sunshine, knowing that it won't be too much longer until I will be able to wear shorts and dresses again, without that self conscious feeling that you can get when you have as many spider veins as I have had, for over 25 years. I'll come back with "before" and "after" pictures to help to illustrate what a difference these treatments have made. Right now, the sun is waiting!
I am not a medical professional, simply a patient who went through these procedures and then explained them the best that I can. Please let me know if I've made any medical inaccuracy errors by posting in the comments below and I'll be glad to fix them!