Are you vain about your veins? You may be, if you’ve noticed twisted, gnarled blue or red veins protruding from the surface of your skin. These varicose veins develop when vein valves designed to push blood one way – upwards to the heart – weaken, fail, or become loose, and allow blood to flow back down the vessels and pool in the ankles and lower legs. You may also notice spider veins, which often precede thicker varicose veins. Spider veins are smaller, more delicate, and look like thin blue or red tracings that spread in a webbed pattern.
Risk factors for developing spider or varicose veins include:
- A genetic predisposition to weak vein valves.
- Hormonal fluctuations. Varicose veins are more common in women because puberty, pregnancy, menopause, and birth control can disrupt hormonal balance and cause vein valves to weaken. Pregnant women are especially susceptible, due to increased blood flow from the fetus, as well as having a full uterus on top of the thighs that stems the return of blood to the heart. If you develop pregnancy-related varicose veins, expect them to disappear on their own several weeks after giving birth.
- Prolonged periods of standing. Some occupations – such as nursing – carry a higher risk factor for development of these unsightly veins because occupants spend most of the day on their feet.
Although protruding varicose veins or webbed spider veins are unattractive, they are superficial and not dangerous to your health in most cases. The working venous system runs deep under the surface of the legs and is not affected by the presence of superficial veins. In some cases however, thick varicose veins can throb, swell, or feel leaden from the blood pooling into the legs. Other complications of varicose veins include vein inflammation, skin discoloration, skin irritation, or leg ulcers.
Because varicose and spider veins are superficial, they are able to be removed or destroyed without affecting leg circulation. Many people undergo vein treatments for cosmetic purposes, because they do not like the appearance of bulging, gnarled varicose veins. And women are the most common recipients of cosmetic treatments to remove delicate spider veins. But outside of aesthetics, varicose veins can also be painful and inflamed, and many people undergo vein treatments to ease symptoms of discomfort.
The good news is that there are numerous treatment options available to remove spider and varicose veins:
- Ablation: Called thermal or radiofrequency ablation. This procedure involves having a thin catheter inserted into affected vein. The catheter is then heated by laser or radiofrequency waves, which break down collagen and destroy the vein wall. The vein will collapse and eventually be reabsorbed back into the body. While effective, this treatment can cause bruising for a few days following the procedure, and it may take several weeks for the treated veins to be completely reabsorbed and disappear. And due to the high heat element, anesthesia is required during the procedure to numb the surrounding area and ease discomfort.
- Sclerotherapy: The treatment of choice for spider veins and small varicose veins. During this procedure, a solution will be injected directly into the vein, causing the vein to swell and close. Blood flow will be rerouted into healthy veins, and the cut off varicose vein will eventually be reabsorbed back into body tissue. Solutions are often saline-based, but for larger veins a detergent or emulsifier may be used as a foaming agent to swell and choke off affected veins. Sclerotherapy is a fast, minimally invasive treatment – it can be performed at your doctor’s office in less than an hour and does not require use of anesthesia.
- Phlebectomy: Also referred to as vein “stripping.” During this surgical procedure, the doctor will make several small cuts in the skin near the affected veins, and then strip each whole vein out of the leg. A phlebectomy is more invasive than other types of vein treatments, but the results are permanent because the entire vein is removed from the body.
- Surgery: For large, thick varicose veins, surgery may be required for removal.
Outside of a medical procedure, there are many steps you can take at home to reduce the risk of developing varicose or spider veins.
- Wear compression stockings, which squeeze the legs and ankles to keep blood pumping steadily back to the heart.
- Eat a healthy diet with lots of fiber to keep your circulation system strong. Maintain a healthy weight – obesity hinders the body’s ability to keep blood flowing to the heart.
- Avoid standing and sitting for long stretches of time. Get up and walk at least once an hour if you sit for prolonged periods.
- Do not cross your legs while sitting – this puts pressure on the veins and cuts off circulation.
- Elevate legs to a level above the heart when resting.
If you are considering treatment for spider or varicose veins, speak with your dermatologist to determine the best option for your specific veins. Treatment recommendations vary based on the type and thickness of veins you are looking to remove, and some treatment plans may involve undergoing a combination of the procedures listed above. Even if you plan to remove unsightly veins for purely cosmetic purposes, there are health risks involved – including the risk of developing blood clots. Discuss medications (including any anticoagulants), allergies, and health conditions with your dermatologist before making a treatment decision.
At Florida Dermatology and Skin Cancer Centers, our team of medical professionals are experts in all problems of the hair, skin, and nails. If you have questions or concerns about varicose veins, spider veins, and treatment options, call one of our ten convenient locations and schedule a free consultation.