A Sonographer’s Experience with Spider Veins
For as long as I can remember, I have suffered from leg cramping and aching. Whenever it happened, I would come up with an excuse. I was overly active, hadn’t drank enough water, needed to eat more bananas, worked out the day before, and so on. I was young, healthy, and very active so why would I ever think these symptoms were caused by anything else?
I started working at Vein Clinics of America as a sonographer in February of 2013. Armed with my ultrasound machine, I was out to change the world one varicose vein patient at a time! As a vein sonographer, I went through their extensive 3-month training program with a dedicated trainer, where I quickly became an ultrasound vein expert! Three months of dedicated training is unheard of in most fields. Even in the ultrasound field you are often given 1-2 weeks of mildly supervised training, no education, and no plan of action. Here, they provided excellent education, loads of supervised and supported hands-on training, as well as daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Talk about the fast lane to success. I was thrilled! Not only was I taking care of patients, but I was working amongst likeminded vein experts.
When I first started experiencing symptoms of vein disease
About a month into my training, I had a really rough week. I was waking up 2 to 3 times per night with leg cramps. These are terrible cramps that make you jump out of bed in the middle of the night as you attempt to stretch, massage, or “walk off” the pain. Once the pain subsides, you are wide awake from adrenaline and worry about another cramp. Although I was staying hydrated, taking a magnesium supplement, and doing all the things I could think of to help myself, nothing was working. By the end of the day, my legs were aching on the outsides of my thighs, (particularly on my right leg) and my lack of sleep was starting to become apparent to my trainer.
She pulled me aside to ask me what was going on. After explaining my issue with lack of sleep due to cramping and my fruitless efforts to remedy the situation, she looked at me with a smirk and asked… “what are the symptoms of vein disease?”. Without hesitation, I immediately answered as I had been trained: “heaviness, aching, pain, cramping, itching, swelling, restless legs.” She was smiling now, as I finally began to put two and two together. “Have you ever considered that you may suffer from vein disease?”
My initial consultation with a vein physician
I hadn’t… not once. Here I was, day in and day out, helping diagnose patients with vein issues and it had never once dawned on me that I may be dealing with chronic venous insufficiency myself. At lunch, I went to see the clinic physician and asked him to perform a consultation. After he looked at my legs and had my trainer scan me to check for reflux we determined it was in fact, my spider veins and reticular veins, which are the blue veins just under the surface of the skin, that were most likely contributing to my aching and cramping.
I had always thought of these veins as ugly, cosmetic, but certainly not symptomatic. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Because veins are supposed to bring waste products and carbon dioxide from the cells back to the organs, heart, and lungs to be expelled from the body, when the veins (even the small spider veins) aren’t functioning properly, the buildup in pressure can cause a break down in the vein wall, allowing those byproducts to escape into the tissue. While the lymphatic system does kick in to help bring things back to where they are supposed to go, it takes time. In the meantime, the byproducts sit in the tissue and cause irritation. This irritation can be particularly noticeable around spider veins because of how close they are to the nerves in the skin. Over time, this chronic irritation can lead to aching, heaviness, restlessness, itching, and yes, even cramping.
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Spider vein treatment and my results
The next day, I started spider vein treatments with our nurse. This was a series of injections directly into the broken veins using very tiny needles. I was surprised at just how little it hurt! Most of the time, I couldn’t even tell when she was injecting me, and when I did feel it, it just felt like a little rubber band snap. It took several sessions over the course of several months to fully treat the spider and reticular veins in both of my legs. After each session I wore compression stockings to help with symptoms and the healing process. Come prepared to your vein procedure with these helpful tips, including what to bring with you on day of treatment.
The results from vein treatment were amazing! Not only do my legs look great but the cramping I experienced consistently since my teens is all but gone! In the last 7 years since my last spider vein injection treatments, I can literally count the number of times I have had cramping in the middle of the night on one hand. I mean, it’s amazing.
Vein disease is different for everyone
Now, because venous reflux is a disease process, I do know that I will most likely need to have more work done in the future. In fact, about 3 years after I had my spider veins treated, I noticed the outside of my right leg was beginning to ache again. This time, I knew it wasn’t normal and immediately spoke with my physician. He ordered another ultrasound and the team determined that all my superficial veins remained normal but that another patch of spider veins had appeared in the same location as my symptoms. One round of touch ups later, I was back to feeling good!
Everyone’s experience with vein disease is different. We often see patients with much more advanced disease, requiring a variety of treatment pathways. In my case, I couldn’t have been more surprised by how symptomatic my spider veins were. This experience gave me a greater appreciation for what my patients go through on a daily basis, the impact effective treatment can have on our quality of life, and it ignited my passion to work with a team that provides excellent patient care.