Spider veins, known in the medical world as telangiectasias or sunburst varicosities are small, thin veins that lie close to the surface of the skin. Although these super-fine veins are connected with the larger venous system, they are not an essential part of it.
A number of factors contribute to the development of spider veins, including heredity, pregnancy and other events that cause hormonal shifts, weight gain, occupations or activities that require prolonged sitting or standing and the use of certain medications.
Spider veins usually take on one of three basic patterns. They may appear in a true spider shape with a group of veins radiating outward from a dark central point, they may be arborizing and will resemble tiny branch-like shapes or they may be simple linear and appear as thin separate lines. Linear spider veins are commonly seen on the inner knee, whereas the arborizing pattern often appears on the outer thigh in a sunburst or cartwheel distribution.
Varicose veins differ from spider veins in a number of ways. Varicose veins are larger, usually more than a quarter-inch in diameter, darker in color and tend to bulge. Varicose veins are also more likely to cause pain and be related to more serious vein disorders. For some patients, sclerotherapy can be used to treat varicose veins. However, often surgical treatment is necessary for this condition.
To treat spider veins with sclerotherapy, veins are injected with a sclerosing solution, which causes them to collapse and fade from view. The procedure may also remedy the bothersome symptoms associated with spider veins, including aching, burning, swelling and night cramps.
Women of any age may be good candidates for sclerotherapy, but most fall in the 30 – 60 age category. In some women, spider veins may become noticeable very early on, even in the teen years. For others, the veins may not become obvious until they reach their 40’s.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you may be advised to postpone sclerotherapy treatment. In most cases, spider veins that surface during pregnancy will disappear on their own within three months after the baby is born.
Spider veins in men are not nearly as common as they are in women. Men who do have spider veins often do not consider them to be a cosmetic problem because the veins are usually concealed by hair growth on the leg. However, sclerotherapy is just as effective for men who seek treatment.
A typical sclerotherapy session is relatively quick, lasting only about 15 to 45 minutes. You will be asked to lie down on the examination table and the skin over your spider veins will be cleaned with an antiseptic solution. Using one hand to stretch the skin taut, Dr. Fisher or a nurse will begin injecting the sclerosing agent into the affected veins. Bright, indirect light and magnification help ensure that the process is completed with maximum precision.
Approximately one injection is administered for every inch of spider vein, anywhere from 5 to 40 injections per treatment session. A cotton ball and compression tape is applied to each area of the leg as it is finished. You will be asked to shift positions a few times during the process. As the procedure continues, you will feel small needle sticks and possibly a mild burning sensation. However, the needle used is so thin and the sclerosing solution is so mild that pain is usually minimal.
After your treatment, in addition to the compression tape applied during the procedure, a tight-fitting support hose may be prescribed to guard against blood clots and to promote healing. The tape and cotton balls can be removed after 48 hours. However, you may be instructed to wear the support hose for 72 hours or more.
It is not uncommon to experience some cramping in the legs for the first day or two after the injections. This temporary problem usually does not require medication.
You should be aware that your treated veins will look worse before they begin to look better. When the compression dressings are removed, you will notice bruising and reddish areas at the injection sites. The bruises will diminish within one month. In many cases, there may be some residual brownish pigmentation which may take up to a year to completely fade.
You will be encouraged to walk to prevent clots from forming in the deep veins of the legs. However, during the period of time to complete your treatment program, prolonged sitting and standing should be avoided, as should squatting, heavy weight lifting and pounding type exercises, including jogging.
A one month healing interval must pass before you may have your second series of injections in the same site. After each treatment, you will notice further improvement.