Healthy veins more than vanity

Healthy veins more than vanity

When you work in an upscale women’s clothing store, your customers expect you to be just as stylish as the clothes you are selling. Jane Smith, who manages Carla’s in Kennebunkport and Portland, doesn’t disappoint. She has a great sense of style, but until recently, limited her wardrobe to items that hid her legs.

“They were not attractive,” she said. “I had very bulgy veins, particularly on my left leg. They were almost rope-like, that’s the only way I can describe them. These veins were big. And then on my right leg I had a very big vein that started up in my thigh area and ran down almost the full length of the leg.”

Even if your legs don’t look like Jane’s, you can still have a vein problem. Other symptoms include fatigue, general discomfort and a heavy feeling in the legs.

Venous disease is tricky, says Dr. Cindy Asbjornsen, who practices at the Vein Healthcare Center in South Portland and is one of only four board-certified vein specialists (phlebologists) in Maine. “Just because you don’t have varicose veins doesn’t mean that not what’s affecting you,” she explains. “On the other hand, if you see those lumpy, bulgy veins it’s almost guaranteed they’re from a deep source that’s causing bigger problems.”

A network of veins and arteries circulate oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Arteries carry blood from the heart down to the legs and, with help from a series of valves that open and close, veins carry it back up to the heart. If a valve stops working, instead of returning to the heart, blood flows back down the legs, where it pools and eventually causes symptoms.

“What happens,” says Asbjornsen, “is the deep vein system ends up working sometimes two and three times as hard as it should and you still end up with the congestion or backup of blood down in your feet because no matter how good that deep system is, it loses blood to that leaky vein.”

The key is to find the source of the problem – the broken valve. In Jane’s case, Asbjornsen plugged the leaky valves in her legs with a combination of laser treatments and ultrasound-guided sclerotherapy, both of which are minimally invasive. She stresses that, unlike what you might expect, it’s not the bulging part of the vein that gets treated.

“You can’t just treat that,” she says. “You have to find out where it’s coming from. That could be higher up in your leg or it could be behind your knee, but it’s probably not what you’re seeing. If you treat the source of the problem, your body will just take care of what’s left over.”

In other words, treat the source and the bulging vein goes away, usually over a period of about six months. Jane says her legs began to improve almost immediately and even though it didn’t really need it, so did her fashion outlook: “I wore a skirt last summer for the first time in many years because my veins looked so much better.”

Style may be important, but lifestyle is even more so, says Asbjornsen. If your legs feel heavy and tired, it’s hard to be active. Jane had the added problem of ulcers on her lower leg that wouldn’t heal. Now they’re gone, too.

“I feel better,” she happily reports. “I can walk, ride my bike and cross country ski. Now, I feel good and I look good!”

Diane Atwood is a health and wellness communicator based in southern Maine. Her website is

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