ReThinking Varicose Veins with Summer Sanders

ReThinking Varicose Veins with Summer Sanders

By Gina Roberts-Grey of Yahoo! Health

Dr. Jeffrey Alpern, D.O. and founder of Vein Specialists of Arizona, is one of a handful of surgeons worldwide to use fast, virtually painless, safe and effective laser ablation and radiofrequency (RF) techniques for the treatment of venous disease discussed in this article. All patients at VSA first receive a comprehensive diagnosis including ultrasound to determine the best treatment. For more information go to

As a kid, Summer Sanders, 40, wondered why her mom had funny looking lines on her legs. “She had varicose veins, but when I was little, I would call them ‘very close’ veins,” says the former competition swimmer and Olympic gold medalist. “As I got older, my mom would joke with me and say ‘they’re hereditary, you get them from your children’ because she got them when she was pregnant with me.”

Sanders didn’t fully connect with her mom’s sense of humor until she became a mom herself.

“I was vein-after my first child. But when I was pregnant with my second, I saw the first one. That was a poignant moment,” says Sanders. “I had this moment where I thought ‘oh my God. I’ve turned into my mother’. I love her, but I didn’t want her veins.”

By the numbers

The Vascular Disease Foundation estimates that at least 20 to 25 million Americans have varicose veins. One study from Southern California says varicose veins affect 33 percent of women and 17 percent of men. The Mayo Clinic describes varicose veins as gnarled, enlarged veins, and adds that a family history of varicose veins – as in Sanders’ case – ups the odds of developing them. Any vein may become varicose, but the veins most commonly affected are those in the legs and feet because standing and walking increases the pressure in the veins of your lower body.

The pain of veins

For most, varicose veins are a cosmetic concern. However, varicose veins can also cause aching and discomfort.

“My legs felt heavy and achy,” says Sanders, the spokesperson for the campaign ReThink Varicose Veins. “It wasn’t until I had a procedure treat them that I realized how bad I felt. One leg always felt so heavy; I didn’t realize how much that was affecting life.”

• According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of varicose veins include:
• Veins that are dark purple or blue in color
• Veins that appear twisted and bulging; often like cords on your legs

When painful signs and symptoms occur, they may include:
• An achy or heavy feeling in your legs
• Burning, throbbing, muscle cramping and swelling in your lower legs
• Worsened pain after sitting or standing for a long time
• Itching around one or more of your veins
• Skin ulcers near your ankle, which can mean you have a serious form of vascular disease that requires medical attention

Sanders says like most busy parents, she was on her feet a lot. As a result, her legs were getting worse.

“I was always putting my feet up at end of day and I didn’t realize that isn’t something we should have to do. I was also constantly massaging my calf because of the painful ache.”

Traveling was also tricky.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time when I was on a plane, I had my leg up. I tried to figure out how to weasel into the armrest of person in front of me to alleviate the pressure.”

She says she also wore a compression stocking, which put helpful pressure on your veins to force blood along its natural course despite damage to the veins.

“That made my leg feel better, but those are difficult to use in an active lifestyle,” says Sanders.

A ‘vari’ quick recovery

Sanders says she decided it was time to take action and seek the help of a vein specialist. “I didn’t want to wait until the symptoms got horrible. And if left untreated, varicose veins can lead to chronic venous insufficiency, a disease that gets worse over time.”

Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) is a condition where the veins cannot pump enough oxygen-poor blood back to the heart. Sanders’ doctor evaluated her legs using an ultrasound.

“I was diagnosed with venous insufficiency, the underlying cause of varicose veins. This was the reason for the achiness and fatigue I felt in my legs,” she says.

There are several minimally-invasive treatment options for varicose veins, including endovenous ablation. This involves the insertion of a thin, flexible tube called a catheter into a diseased vein to seal it shut using heat. Blood that would normally return toward the heart through these veins will then travel through other veins instead. The treated vein then dries up, shrinks and is absorbed by the body. Doctors generally use either radiofrequency energy or a laser to heat the blood and perform the procedure. Sanders opted for radiofrequency ablation and says the procedure was fairly simple.

“It wasn’t all that uncomfortable and I was awake the whole time, chatting with my doctor. I walked out of the room and was playing with my kids the next day. I couldn’t have run a marathon, but it was nothing that took me out of commission,” she says.

Take care of your legs

Sanders says she’s encouraging her friends – and all women – dealing with varicose veins to talk to their doctor about treatment options.

“Women shouldn’t think they’re being vane worrying about varicose veins. Appearance is secondary; this is a health issue that can become very serious.”


Vein Specialists of Arizona (VSA) is a state-of-the-art vein center that defines a new standard in care for the diagnosis and treatment of varicose veins, spider veins, leg ulcers and chronic venous insufficiency. From vein treatments that correct existing underlying pathology to procedures that erase spider veins before the patient’s eyes, we think you will find VSA to be your best choice for venous issues.  For more information please visit website, or call 623-428-0068.



Dr. Jeffrey Alpern is a Cardiovascular Surgeon who was the first D.O. to perform a heart and heart/lung transplant in the world. Among his other impressive qualifications, Dr. Alpern trained at the world renowned Cleveland Clinic and was Surgical Director of Heart and Lung Transplantation at both Temple University and Hahnemann University Hospitals in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. He currently is Director and founding member of Desert Cardiovascular Surgeons in Phoenix, and of Vein Specialists of Arizona recently located in the West Valley. Dr. Jeffrey Alpern, D.O is one of a handful of surgeons worldwide to use fast, virtually painless, safe and effective laser ablation and radiofrequency (RF) techniques for the treatment of existing varicose veins, spider veins, chronic venous insufficiency and venous leg ulcers.

Gina Roberts-Gray
For more than 13 years, Gina has pored over studies and interviewed leading health experts to write nearly 2,000 articles spanning a broad spectrum of health topics. To read more about her visit her website at