Millions of women and men are troubled by unattractive spider veins on their faces and legs. Spider veins are called as such because they resemble a "star" with numerous small veins radiating from a center point. They may also appear as fine, separate lines, a web-like maze, or as "branches" from a single "tree trunk." These red, blue or purple thread-like lines may develop on any part of the body, including the face, but most often appear on the thighs, calves, or buttocks. The condition is associated with increased pressure to the veins.
Are spider veins bad for health?
Spider veins are always superficial to the skin and much smaller than varicose veins. Because spider veins are dark and superficial to the skin, some people dislike the appearance of them.
One thing to note about these veins is that they are harmless and not associated with any symptoms, and are only of a cosmetic concern. While we do not have a cure for spider veins, one can protect against them by wearing support hose and maintaining a normal weight.
What causes spider veins?
Spider veins are typically caused by abnormal blood flow and weakening of the blood vessel wall. Any condition or activity that places pressure on the veins (like weight gain, prolonged sitting or standing) can contribute to their development.
Spider veins increase with age and thus are quite common in the elderly. There is also a genetic basis, since spider veins do tend to run in families. In pregnancy, spider veins are quite common and have been associated with an increase in the female sex hormone, estrogen. Estrogen is known to weaken the walls of the veins and may contribute to the development of spider veins. During pregnancy, spider veins are most common in the 2nd trimester.
Do spider veins disappear on their own?
Unfortunately no; spider veins once developed generally get worse and do not resolve on their own. Weight gain, lack of exercise and a sedentary life style is associated with progression of spider veins.
What are non surgical methods of treating spider veins?
The most conservative approach for treating spider veins is to wear properly fitting support hose (also called compression stockings). These stockings can generally be purchased at any pharmacy and come in various styles and colors. The stockings may be worn below or above the knee. They also come in different compressions varying from 18 to 20 mmHg and up to 40 to 50 mmHg. Unfortunately, once the spider veins have developed, they do not disappear even with wearing stockings.
Other conservative treatment approaches include losing weight if you are overweight, exercising regularly (especially walking), avoiding prolonged periods of sitting or standing, and elevating your legs while sitting and sleeping. For those who tend to stand up for prolonged periods, time outs should be taken to rest the feet.
What are other methods of treating spider veins?
If conservative treatment does not achieve satisfactory relief of symptoms or if the appearance of the veins is bothersome, other treatments may be offered, depending on your overall medical condition. Depending on the size and location of the veins, other treatment techniques include:
- Sclerotherapy: This technique is not useful for varicose veins, only spider veins. This procedure involves the injection of a concentrated solution of sodium chloride directly into the vein with a small needle. The solution irritates the veins and causes it to collapse. Over time, the vessel turns into scar tissue that fades away. The procedure is usually done in a clinic, is relatively inexpensive, and has little downtime. Most individuals require a couple of sessions to treat all the spider veins. Side effects of sclerotherapy may include slight swelling, bruising, and redness and itching at injection sites. If the solution leaks out of the vein, pain and darkening of the skin occurs.
- Intense Light Therapy: This newer technique of treating spider veins uses intense pulsed light that can be used to selectively damage or destroy abnormal veins including small spider veins and small vascular birthmarks. Unlike laser, the intense light therapy is more suited for vascular lesions slightly deeper in the skin. This treatment may be recommended when sclerotherapy or laser therapy does not effectively treat the superficial vein. Two to four treatments may be required depending on the number and size of the lesions.
- Surgical ligation/stripping: Spider veins are almost never treated with surgery. Surgery is only reserved for the large varicose veins.
What is the role of Laser in the treatment of spider veins?
The best and gold standard treatment for spider veins is laser. Laser vein removal is an easy, fast, and effective way to treat superficial veins Laser therapy has been used in the medicine for more than 30 years. Advances in technology have helped developed many different lasers. The laser uses a focused beam of light. In the treatment of veins, the wavelength of light is targeted to the pigment in the blood. The laser heats up the small vein and destroys it. The laser beam is focused and does not damage the nearby skin tissue. Over a period of four to six weeks, the vein is reabsorbed by the body and disappears.
Who is a candidate for laser therapy?
There are no absolute reasons as to why one can not undergo laser therapy. However one should:
- be in good physical health
- be mentally and psychologically stable
- preferably does not smoke
- Wants to improve his/her appearance
- Is realistic about the procedure and results
- Has no disease of the blood vessels or problems with bleeding
What type of laser is used to treat spider veins?
The most common laser used to treat spider veins is the Nd: YAG Laser system. It is a hand held device and also has a cooling tip to minimize the discomfort during the therapy.
How does the laser work?
The Nd YAG laser pierces the skin and penetrates the superficial blood vessel. The heat generated from the laser coagulates the blood inside the vessel causing it to collapse and seal. Over the next few weeks, the vessel will disappear and all the blood will be removed by the body's scavenging cells. The newer laser treatments allow the delivery of a precise dosage of energy to each blood vessel without injuring any nearby structures.
How do I know if I am a candidate for laser vein treatment?
All individuals are evaluated prior to laser therapy. Spider veins do not cause symptoms and are of a cosmetic concern only. For those who have symptoms, further investigation is done to ensure that they do not have varicose veins. Laser therapy is most effective for the very small spider veins and not used to treat large varicose veins.
What preparations must I take?
There are no major preparations required before the laser treatment. A few common sense recommendations include avoiding sun exposure, aspirin, alcohol and not smoke for at least a week prior to the procedure.
On the day of the treatment one should avoid all creams, lotions and moisturizers on the area that is going to be treated.
One should wear comfortable clothing that allows easy access to the body part(s).
What happens during the laser therapy?
The procedure is done in a doctor's office or clinic and usually takes less than 10-20 minutes.
In most cases, only the very small superficial veins are treated with a laser. The majority of individuals do not require any type of anesthesia, but for those who are squeamish or anticipate pain, the physician may apply a topical anesthetic 20 minutes prior to the procedure. Most current day lasers also have a cooling system which prevents the tip of the laser from getting hot.
Is laser therapy painful?
During your treatment, you may feel a slight tingling sensation as the laser fires. If the individual feels any pain, a topical local anesthetic is applied 20 minutes before the procedure.
How does one feel after the laser therapy?
Soon after the procedure, you may feel a slight bump on the skin which will disappear in the next 2-4 hours. The area may also appear slightly redder and occasionally may be bruised.
Are there any precautions after laser therapy?
After laser therapy, it is strongly recommended that one keep away from the sun. Healing can be facilitated by wearing support hose. The pain is minimal and one may take any over the counter pain medications. After treatment, there is no down time. You can resume all of your normal activities immediately afterward.
How often can one undertake laser therapy for spider veins?
It is generally recommended that the treatments be spaced four to six weeks apart. If new veins appear, additional treatments are required for optimum results.
What are side effects of laser therapy?
The skin above the veins will have a reddish, cat-scratch appearance. This generally disappears over the next two days.
When can I go back to work after laser therapy?
Patients are encouraged to resume all normal activities immediately. Final results may not be apparent for several months. Most patients are satisfied by the results in a very short time.
How long does it take for the results to become evident?
The results of laser treatment for spider veins are not immediate. After the laser therapy, the vessels underneath the skin will gradually change from a dark blue to light red color, then eventually disappearing in two to six weeks.
Most patients report a high degree of satisfaction with the procedure and relief at no longer having to hide unsightly veins. The treated areas are noticeably clearer and in most cases the skin continues to improve with each successive treatment.
The majority of spider veins will disappear within two to four weeks, and in some cases even longer.
What are potential complications of laser therapy?
The risks associated with laser vein therapy are minimal. Your eyes will be shielded during the treatments. Most facilities use state-of-the-art cooling systems, thus the treatments are low risk and relatively pain-free.
How many treatments will I need?
Depending on the size and number of veins, two to six treatments will be needed. The treatments are usually done 4-6 weeks apart. Those with a tendency towards vascular problems will most likely require additional treatments.
What are advantages of laser over sclerotherapy?
- it has much fewer side effects
- It is less traumatic to the surrounding skin compared to sclerotherapy
- It takes a much shorter time to complete laser treatment
- It is less painful than sclerotherapy
- Recovery is immediate
- Downtime is almost zero
- Laser therapy can even be used on the face
What are disadvantages of laser over sclerotherapy?
- laser can not be used for more deeper veins
- laser is slightly more expensive than sclerotherapy
How can I prevent spider veins?
- Avoid wearing tight-fitting undergarments and clothing that constricts the waist, groin or legs
- Avoid crossing your legs while seated
- Avoid sitting or standing in one position for a long time
- Exercise regularly to increase circulation
- Lose weight if you are overweight
Is the Laser treatment for spider veins curative?
There is no cure for spider veins. Although treatment does not prevent the development of new spider veins, the removal of existing veins can dramatically improve the appearance of the affected area, providing a more youthful, healthy look and an even color pattern to the skin. Spider veins are recurrent and thus, more treatments will be required in the future.
What other conditions does the laser treat?
In addition to the leg spider veins, the laser can provide non-invasive skin treatments for the face. It is also used to remove unwanted hair even from patients who are not always good candidates for laser hair removal, such as those with darker or tanned skin.
Is laser therapy for spider veins covered by medical insurance?
No, spider veins are only of cosmetic nuisance and not covered by medical insurance or Medicare. The average cost for laser therapy may vary from $200 - $400 per session.