I Have Ugly Legs

… or at least that’s how I felt! I had a vein on the back of my leg that was not properly working and to me, it seemed larger than life. I knew that it was a varicose vein, but outside of that, knew nothing of the condition, other than it was *maybe* caused by crossing my legs.

I had noticed the vein for years, and only recently, it had started causing me problems, like a dull ache, it itched and every once in a while, a sharp pain.  A friend who works in the industry, sent me to a doctor, who thankfully, has completed more procedures in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area than any other doctor, and was one of the DC area’s best.

The diagnosis was easy.  The technician performed an ultrasound on both legs, and the leg with the bulging vein has venous insufficiency, more commonly known as a varicose vein.  Veins carry the blood throughout the body to the different organs.  Gravity wants to pull the blood down towards our feet, but there are valves  in the veins that prevent that from happening and keep the blood running upwards, towards our hearts.  In my case, the valves were “broken” allowing the blood to stay stagnant in my vein causing it to stretch and bulge.  When I would return from a run, the vein was especially pronounced from the increased blood flow in my legs. Propping my legs up provided a temporary solution, but not an effective treatment for long-term care.

All in all, the procedure was relatively simple in theory and has become less invasive throughout the years.  The procedure used to involve cutting at three points on the leg and into the groin, ultimately stripping the vein, but now it involves small incisions where they insert a small catheter, which burns the vein from the inside out.

The doctor injects a numbing agent into the leg and inserts the catheter just below the knee, upwards towards the patient’s groin. Taking the vein in sections, heats the catheter up for a few seconds to burn each part of the vein, causing it to collapse in on itself, which is ultimately absorbed by the body.  The vein below the knee, the bulging portion, is a different story.  For the enlarged, stretched out vein, the doctor wraps it around what looks like a crochet hook, like spaghetti, and pulls it out of the body at the incision. Fortunately, I was under minimal sedation and had a friend in the room with me, to distract me from what was going on, so I didn’t see what was happening. As we chatted about Cooks Illustrated and the different baked goods we were going to make together in the coming weeks, the procedure wrapped up and was finished in less than 20 minutes.  The prep time took longer than the actual procedure!

How do the veins develop?

The condition is hereditary and most common in women.  They can also develop in women who are pregnant (because of the increased pressure on the abdomen) or in women who spend copious amounts of time on their feet (support stockings and panty hose can be worn, which help circulate the blood and prevent the blood from pooling in the veins).   Symptoms include: Heavy legs, pain, swollen ankles and skin ulcers. Treatment, which was once treated as purely cosmetic, is now covered by most insurance companies, because of the complications the enlarged veins can cause in many women.

Recovery time is 7-10 days.  For 7 days, one must wear thigh-high compression socks, and no, they are not sexy or attractive, but they are helpful in speeding up the recovery time.  The compression helps to ensure the vein has collapsed in on itself.  Bruising is normal and can be iced, which helps with the pain and swelling.  I was told drinking pineapple juice can also help to speed up the bruising process.  While walking every hour is required, exercise is not permitted for 10 days following the procedure.  Exercise is the way in which I reduce stress… the second way is baking.  These two do not go hand in hand, as it’s not a good idea to bake (as my back-up stress reliever) when working out is not in the cards.  But, I did successfully make a batch of French Macaroons, of which I was VERY proud!

Today is my last day of wear the compression stockings, which is a huge relief.  It makes outfit selection a bit of a challenge, especially in the summer, as shorts and skirts are not an option, but I’m happy to have the procedure behind me and my leg feels much better already.  Next stop: a run on Saturday. Or at least a jog.  Trust me, I am counting down the days!

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