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Sclerotherapy: I Got My Spider Veins Removed. Did It Work?

My experience with Dr. Luis Navarro at The Vein Treatment Center in New York

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Sclerotherapy: I Got My Spider Veins Removed. Did It Work?

my legs on a recent vacation to Tulum, Mexico

Julyne Derrick

A few years ago I bought an apartment with an entire wall of mirrors. The mirrors are on sliding glass closet doors and above them are canned lights that show off every one of my body's flaws. It was in these mirrors that I saw for the first time the pale blue lines that wormed their way down the sides of both my legs like interstates on a highway map.

"My god," I thought, "Just as the saying goes, I am turning into my mother."

What I had was a case of spider veins, not the varicose veins my mother had running down the inside of her left leg like a Adirondack mountain range. Still, I worried that the spider veins were a precursor to my own mini-mountain range and so I kept the unsightly veins covered under knee-length skirts in summer. It was just as well that I never was a beach person, I thought. No one had to see the veins since I was never in a bathing suit.

And then, two winters ago, a friend convinced me to go to Tulum, Mexico, for a week-long beach vacation and my spider veins were outed. So was I. Turns out I'm a closet beach freak (those are my legs pictured here from the vacation). Since bathing suits are now in my future, the unsightly veins had to go. Stat. I went to the Web and started researching.

My search led me to The Vein Treatment Center on Manhattan's Upper East Side and to its founder, Dr. Luis Navarro. Navarro gets rave reviews from the top echelon of New York medicine. Renowned physicians Jahangir Rahman, Patricia Allen and Lisa Airan all recommended The Vein Treatment Center to former Vogue editor Sally Singer, who then wrote one of the best magazine beauty pieces I've ever read. She was pleased with the results.

If Navarro and The Vein Treatment Center were good enough for Vogue, then they were good enough for me. I booked an appointment for a consultation and secretly wondered if it was really possible to erase 12 inches of blue veins from each leg.

A Meeting With Dr. Luis Navarro

One reason I chose The Vein Treatment Center is because I wanted a specialist who knows veins very, very well. I had read many accounts of disappointed patients who had their veins treated at a dermatologist's office and saw no results despite spending 100s -- sometimes thousands -- of dollars (each treatment is about $300-$500 per session, depending on where you go). This, in fact, happened to Singer, according to her article.

"This is the only thing I do in life so I better do it well," said Dr. Navarro with a good-natured laugh when I met him in his office.

In fact, Navarro has been treating veins in the legs, hands and face for more than 30 years and is the co-creator of the endovenous laser treatment, a method that allows doctors to use lasers to remove bulging varicose veins without cutting into the body. In the past, doctors stripped the offending veins, first putting patients under general anesthesia, then making cuts at the groin and the ankle and pulling out the offending veins. It was a surgery my mother never wanted, so she put up with the pain and discomfort.

One concern I had with sclerotherapy was the results, which are not guaranteed. I asked Navarro what he does that a dermatologist wouldn't do. According to Navarro, dermatologists not well-trained in treating veins may be unable to find the true cause of the spider veins. "The problem is likely a foot away," he says. A poor sclerotherapy job can actually cause more veins to appear. This I did not want.

Spider and varicose veins are largely inherited but can be caused by pregnancy, age, obesity and prolonged standing. Because my mother had varicose veins, I have a propensity for them, Navarro said, estimating that my chances are about 60-80 percent over my lifetime. Eeek. When I asked him if I would ever need treatment again after my rounds, he said, "I can take care of the veins that are here now, but your propensity still exists."

That sounded fair to me. But I had one last question: leg crossing. In our meeting, I noticed both of us had our legs crossed and I'd always read that it could cause vein problems.

Navarro laughed and shook his head "no" as if he were letting me in on a dirty little secret. That was a relief. I could go on with what I always thought was a bad habit. Ladies: go ahead and cross those legs. Navarro said it's okay.

The Consultation at The Vein Treatment Center

Before you sign up for treatments, you get a free consultation to determine how to proceed. Navarro's assistant took down my complete medical history and asked me detailed questions about my vein problems. It turns out Mom and I are in good company: One in three women have spider veins and 25% of women suffer from varicose veins, according to veindirectory.org. We would find out during the diagnostic tests, which are part of the consultation, if my deep veins are in good working order.

During the consultation, I changed into a gown and the assistant did a venous Doppler test on my legs in the front and the back at the two "junctions" where blood flows into the main veins and arteries of the legs. "Defective valves actually sound different," said Navarro. My veins, it turns out, are in good working order.

After the Doppler, a few digital photos of my legs were taken. We discussed the best procedure for treating my veins, sclerotherapy, which consists of saline injections (about 25-50 per leg) all along the veins. Then I was told a list of side effects that happen very rarely to people but had to be mentioned to me (none involving death). I was already sold, so I said, "Let's do it."

The Sclerotherapy Procedure

The entire procedure lasted about 15 minutes. While I laid on my side and then on my back, Navarro injected saline all along the offending veins and at their sources.

I took a couple Tylenol at least an hour before the procedure to help cut down the sting from the needle but I was surprised to find the 50 or so injections were actually less painful than laser hair removal. Many injections didn't hurt at all, while some really stung. After the injections, I experienced a bit of itchiness which was the saline working its way through the veins. But the itching lasted only a few minutes.

CI moved around a lot from side to side and on my stomach so Navarro could work on every blemish. When he finished, a nurse applied ointment to the areas which looked like mosquito bites and topped each injection site with a cotton ball then wrapped my legs tightly with an Ace bandage. I was instructed to purchase support hose at a local pharmacy and to sleep in them that night and wear them for two full days after the appointment. The support hose reduces swelling and keeps the solution in the veins.

I left my appointment pleased with the convenience and pain level of the actual procedure.

Post-Treatment What to Expect

Navarro warned me that I would develop what he calls "black and blues" -- bruising that could last up to 2 weeks. And I did. I was grateful I got the treatment in March, when it was too cold out to show off my legs.

The only thing I didn't like about the post-treatment was wearing support hose to bed the first night. I had to take a sleeping pill to sleep and it was still a fitful night. And then there was the problem of washing the one pair of support hose and having them dry completely before wearing. I've never been a hose person, but I was glad they dried quickly.

After the injections my legs looked just as Navarro's assistant warned, "Like a construction site." I was told I had to endure the messiness knowing that the end results would be beautiful. Having that expectation helped me live through the painful period of the "black and blues" even though more than once at the gym I forgot about the bruising and stripped down in front of a roomful of women. Oops.

Follow-up Treatments & What to Expect

I ended up having 5 treatments but some women need only a couple sessions, others need more than I had. It's all dependent on how well your veins take to the treatment and how much you want to pay.

The veindirectory.org suggests people wait a couple weeks between treatments to allow the swelling and bruising to go down but I got 5 treatments within 2 weeks because Navarro said the closer I got them together the less time I would have to spend bruised.

Women from all over the world flock to his office to get their legs done in a matter of a week or even a few days. "People come to New York to shop and at the same time get their veins done." Sometimes he does 3-4 treatments in one day. An expert, Navarro can easily see how treatments are working. "You leave with black and blues, but no live veins."

Each follow-up treatment was the same: Dr. Navarro studied my legs, complimented me on my healing capacity (I got an A-plus) and got to work injecting any veins that were still clinging to life. I was covered in ointment and cotton balls, wrapped in the bandages and sent home to my support hose. As the days progressed I saw amazing results. Almost immediately the blue veins on my left leg had disappeared. The veins on my right leg took a few treatments, but also disappeared.

On the final visit, Navarro popped the spots on my legs that were caused by trapped blood. This was actually a bit painful because he pokes the dots with a needle and then squeezes out the blood as if he were popping zits.

It's now a full two weeks since my last treatment and the black and blues are gone and so are the blue veins. There's a good chance I will be coming back once every few years for maintenance as veins naturally develop on my legs. But I am so excited with the results I asked Navarro if he could please find such a miracle cure for cellulite. Then my legs would be in perfect shape.

He laughed at that so I turned my attention to the ropey blue veins on my hands and wondered if maybe, just maybe, I should have them erased, too. After all, Navarro said he saw beautiful results on hands. Nah. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Editor's note: The treatments at The Vein Treatment Center were given complimentary to the writer.

For more information on the Vein Treatment Center, visit their Website or contact them at:
The Vein Treatment Center
327 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065
(212) 249-6117

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