New Treatments for Varicose Veins


As a curious child, you might remember staring at an older relative’s thick stockings at the blue, gnarled veins lying under the varicose veins and can precede development of the more unsightly variation or cause cosmetic concerns of their own. Sun exposure can make spider veins worse by breaking down ankle and leg tissue, causing swelling.

Aside from the “purple snake” effect, varicose veins can collagen in the vessel wall and causes it to collapse and re-absorb. Anesthesia mixed with fluid is injected first to make the procedure painless and, at the same time, press the blood out of the vein. Scarring is almost imperceptible, although there may be some bruising and the vein may take eight weeks to re-absorb.

Lasers are also used to send bursts of concentrated light into the vein, collapsing it. When the laser hits the skin, there is a tinge of discomfort, but the doctor quickly cools the skin off. Another, even newer technique is called foam sclerotherapy, Weiss explains. An agent, such as a detergent or emulsifier, is agitated with air, forming foam the consistency of watery shaving cream (a little air in veins is acceptable, unlike Hollywood would have you believe). The foam is then injected into the problematic vein, gradually causing the walls to swell and stick together, blocking off the vein. The deeper venous systems take over the blood flow.

Tsao, however, says she would prefer use of foam sclerotherapy for spider veins. Varicose veins she said are larger bore vessels and require more aggressive therapy.

Another, older, but still often used technique, is called ambulatory phlebectomy, in which the vein is extracted with a crochet-hook-like device. And it’s quick. Once it’s out, there’s no waiting for the vein to re-absorb. “Some people still prefer this to waiting,” Weiss says.

What are the chances of a ginkgo biloba and vitamin K. “You can start at 60 mg twice daily and go to 120 mg twice daily on ginkgo,” Kimball says. Tsao and Weiss are both doubtful about ginkgo, however. “There have been no formal studies of the effects on varicose veins,” Tsao says. And if you have normal levels of vitamin K, you don’t need more, she adds.

The best way to prevent varicose veins if they are in your family is to not stand for long periods, Weiss advises. Other tips include:

  • Avoid sitting with your legs crossed, it puts terrible pressure on the veins.
  • Elevate your legs when resting. This applies especially to pregnant women.
  • If you’re on a long flight, get up and walk about every hour. This goes for sitting at the computer, too.

Now here’s the bad news. Wearing support hose — yes we’re talking the dreaded pantyhose — is recommended for anyone with visible veins or for people who have had a procedure done. “Wear them every waking hour,” says Tsao.

Star Lawrence is a medical journalist based in the Phoenix area.