Varicose Veins and Spider Veins (Telangiectasias)
Spider veins or telangiectasias of the legs are a common problem that affects both men and women. Small purple, blue or red veins can form anywhere on the leg, from the top of the thigh to the ankle. These veins appear as connected lines resembling a sunburst or spider web pattern or as short, unconnected lines. On many people, they are relatively inconspicuous, because they are confined to a small area; however, some people become distressed when larger areas of skin are affected and the veins become more noticeable.
Varicose veins are larger, sometimes raised veins which are often blue in color. These are not the deep veins connected to the primary circulation but are superficial veins responsible for blood flow from the skin. They can however become quite painful, producing a burning or throbbing sensation. Although these superficial varicose veins and spider veins carry blood, neither is necessary to the circulatory system and in fact are harmful to the remainder of the healthy veins.
No one has determined for certain why some people are affected with spider veins and varicose veins and others are not. Some families seem predisposed to the condition suggesting a genetic trait. Trauma to the leg in the form of blows or falls may contribute to the formation of these veins, and long periods of standing or sitting may also be causative factors. More women than men seem to develop this condition, as a result of increased hormones particularly estrogen or estrogen supplements. Scientists have not discovered any clear-cut methods to prevent the onset of these telangiectasias or varicose veins, although it is believed the use of support hose, weight control and exercise may be beneficial.
Today, because of modern technology, both telangiectasias and superficial varicose veins can be treated through a procedure called sclerotherapy. Sclerotherapy is a technique that involves the use of a very fine needle to inject a solution directly into the veins. The solution causes the vein to swell, scar on the inside and close down. The body then naturally absorbs the vein so that it disappears or becomes less obvious.
Prior to treatment, a complete medical history is taken and a thorough examination made in order to determine, among other things, how long the problem has existed, the severity of the symptoms, whether or not the condition is affected by physical activity and if there has been any prior surgery or treatment of the veins. The physician determines if the deep venous system is affected, in which case surgery may be recommended before sclerotherapy is undertaken. Pre-treatment instructions may include the elimination of certain drugs that contain aspirin in order to minimize the possible excess bleeding. The physician decides whether or not the area to be treated should be shaved. The veins are usually marked while the patient is in a standing position.
Larger veins are usually treated first. After the skin is thoroughly cleansed with alcohol, the physician uses a syringe with a tiny needle to inject a small amount of sclerosing (hardening) solution directly into the vein. The solution displaces the blood within the vein, causing it to blanch or turn white. The solution then causes the vessel to turn red, become irritated and swell shut, prohibiting the blood from reentering the vein. When the needle is withdrawn, pressure is immediately applied to the area. The skin may be massaged to help disperse the solution and reduce bruising. Each vein may require several injections and most disappear in two weeks to two months. Other treatments using high frequency radio waves or lasers to produce heat are sometimes used in specific situations.
Patients who have had sclerotherapy have reported little discomfort. Some experience a slight burning sensation immediately after the injection but this disappears within a few seconds. An ointment to soothe the skin and relieve the burning may be used, and a pressure bandage may be applied to prevent post-injection bleeding. Some physicians prefer compression stockings others use compression bandages.
Patients are usually advised to resume normal activity immediately, although vigorous activity is discouraged for twenty-four hours. Walking is encouraged because it increases the blood flow through other healthy veins. Elevation of the legs is not usually recommended unless large veins have been treated.
Most patients experience no adverse effects; however, some minor side effects have been reported which usually disappear after a short period of time. Bruising around the treated area, which eventually disappears, can result if the veins are unusually weak. Fair skinned people tend to bruise more than dark skinned people. A small percentage of patients develop a network of tiny pink vessels, called a flair, that turns white when pressure is applied. This condition also referred to as matting usually disappears without treatment; however, injection treatment may be necessary in some cases. New spider veins or varicose veins may occur over time, but properly treated veins will not reoccur. Wearing support hose after treatment is recommended to reduce the progression of new varicose and spider veins.
Today thousands of people who have felt self-conscious or embarrassed by unsightly veins are delighted with the results they are getting from sclerotherapy treatment. Most patients experience significant improvement, although final results may not be apparent for several months.