Varicose veins and spider veins are often considered nothing more than unsightly cosmetic problems. The truth is that both conditions could be symptoms of a larger problem known as venous insufficiency.
What is Venous Insufficiency?
The veins are delicate structures that contain valves to keep the blood flowing in one direction—back toward the heart. Venous insufficiency is a condition where the valves do not function properly, causing blood to flow backward and pool in areas of the body like the legs. Essentially, there is insufficient blood flow back to the heart.
When the blood pools it puts pressure on the walls of the veins, causing them to bulge into the thick ropes characteristic of varicose veins. Spider veins are similar to varicose veins, except they occur in multiple small vessels and resemble spider webs instead of ropes.
When you have bulging, ropey varicose veins, they are not only unsightly, they can also put you at greater risk for blood clots.
Causes of Venous Insufficiency
There are several factors that can cause venous insufficiency:
A sedentary lifestyle. The veins rely on muscle contractions to help move blood back to the heart. Being sedentary makes it harder for the blood to flow, which puts stress on the valves and contributes to venous insufficiency.
Age and heredity. The veins naturally weaken as you age, and those with a family history are more likely to develop venous insufficiency as they grow older.
Injury. An injury to the veins, such as severe bruising or a crushing injury, can damage the valves and contribute to venous insufficiency.
Treatments for Venous Insufficiency
There are several treatments for venous insufficiency and also cosmetic solutions to improve the appearance of the veins:
- Compression Stockings. These garments squeeze the veins, like the leg muscles, to help maintain a constant blood flow. While these garments do correct the blood flow issue, they may not improve the appearance of your veins.
- Sclerotherapy. The word “sclero” comes from the Greek word for hard. With this therapy, doctors inject a chemical into the vein which causes the walls to harden and close. This method corrects some of the blood flow issue by removing the faulty veins from the equation. It also corrects the appearance of the veins, which eventually fade over time.
- Laser treatments have an effect similar to sclerotherapy, except they use strong bursts of light to correct the affected veins. The downside to this treatment is that it can result in burns, and it only works on small veins.
- Endovenous therapy uses a catheter to affect veins far below the surface of the skin. Like sclerotherapy and laser therapy, endovenous therapy closes off the vein and reroutes blood flow. These deep veins do not usually show up on the surface of the skin, but any varicose and spider veins that are connected to them could shrink after the treatment.
- Surgery is used to treat veins that are too large to treat with other therapies. Unlike other therapies, surgery removes the faulty vein entirely.
- Regular exercise, especially cardiovascular exercise, will encourage circulation and help prevent venous insufficiency.
- Avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time. If you have a job that requires it, elevate your legs above your heart during your off hours, or wear compression stockings.
- Reduce your sodium intake to prevent your body from retaining water, which can put stress on the veins.