The term varicose veins can refer to abnormal, unwanted veins that vary in size anywhere from small spider veins up to larger, bulging veins. Spider veins mainly develop on the legs or face, though they can crop up elsewhere. Varicose veins develop on the legs.
They're usually quite visible, and symptoms can include mild to moderate pain, skin ulcers or sores, blood clots (which can become serious), and sometimes other problems.
Typically, doctors try to treat varicose veins with conservative measures first — things like compression hose, periods of leg elevation, and walking. In many cases, these measures can improve the symptoms, at least temporarily. However, to get rid of varicose veins, you'll need to have them removed by a doctor. Here are some common questions relating to the cause and treatment of varicose veins and spider veins.
Can varicose veins and/or spider veins serve any useful purpose?
For the most part, varicose veins and spider veins don't serve a useful function. In fact, they're dysfunctional, and removing them could actually improve circulation. There are some very rare cases where deep veins in the legs are blocked and varicose, and they may still be useful in circulation and should not be removed, but rather treated in another way.
What causes varicose veins and spider veins?
Valves in veins help fight the force of gravity and maintain the flow of blood toward your heart. If those valves become damaged or weak, there can be a backup of blood, which can collect in your veins. That, in turn, causes swelling in the veins and, eventually, varicose veins and/or spider veins.
Factors that can increase your risk for varicose veins and spider veins include family history of vein problems, pregnancy, hormonal changes, being overweight, not moving your legs enough (especially standing or sitting for long periods of time), trauma to the lower body, and your gender (women are more often affected).
In addition, extensive facial exposure to the sun may also cause spider veins on the nose and cheeks.
How can I prevent varicose veins?
Varicose veins aren't always preventable. Nevertheless, these are some things that can, in some cases, help prevent or even help alleviate varicose veins:
- Don't sit for too long at one time (such as at a desk or in a car), especially with your legs crossed
- Exercise regularly with emphasis on leg exercises
- Maintain a healthy weight to reduce extra strain on your legs
- Put your legs up when resting
- Wear support stockings
- Avoid wearing high-heeled shoes for long periods of time
- Eat a low-sodium, high-fiber diet
- Use sunscreen on the face when outdoors
How successful is sclerotherapy in treating varicose veins and spider veins?
A single sclerotherapy session can yield a 50 to 80% improvement. It can take several weeks for the full effect and benefit of treatment to become apparent though. For that reason, doctors often recommend waiting a few weeks between treatments.
How many treatments will be needed?
The severity and extent of the varicose veins and spider veins in each case will determine how many treatments will be required. Consult a vein specialist for a thorough evaluation of your specific needs and to determine the best method of treatment for you.
Will insurance cover treatment for varicose veins?
Many insurance plans cover vein treatment when it is medically necessary — in other words, because you have a specific vein-related health problem. Vein treatment for cosmetic reasons is not covered. Most insurance companies consider spider veins to be a cosmetic issue.
What are the possible side effects of sclerotherapy?
Burning, stinging, itching around the injection sites, and sometimes muscle cramps, which usually subside within a few minutes. There may be some swelling of the injection sites or of the feet or ankles. These side effects generally go away within a few days.
- Bruising or red puffiness may appear around the injection site and usually fades away within a few days.
- Areas of increased pigmentation (brown staining) may come from iron in the blood as a treated vein dissolves. It usually fades over a period of several months. In about 5 percent of cases it can be permanent.
- Matting (revascularization) is a growth of fine red veins near the injection site. They may appear days or weeks after treatment and usually go away over time.
- Allergic reactions to the sclerosant chemical used in the treatment are uncommon and rarely serious.
- In some cases, larger veins may harden or become lumpy before they fade away.
What happens if varicose veins and spider veins are left untreated?
Usually nothing, but untreated varicose veins can, in some cases, cause pain, thrombosis (blood clots), spontaneous bleeding, and skin ulcers. Spider veins, on the other hand, tend not to cause medical problems, but many are uncomfortable about their appearance.
Are varicose veins likely to recur?
Treatment clears up existing vein problems. As you age, other varicose veins may still develop.
When is vein treatment not advisable?
Sclerotherapy is not an option while pregnant or nursing (though laser treatment may be). People who have restricted movement or who are on bed rest need to discuss options with their doctor. Anyone with a significant illness or increased risk of developing blood clots should disclose such information to their vein specialist.
What happens after treatment?
After sclerotherapy, based on the type of veins and treatment, your doctor may tell you to wear compression stockings and/or bandages on the treated leg(s) for a period of time. Your doctor may also recommend walking or periods of leg elevation. Varicose vein and spider vein treatment can be fairly quick and easy, and in many cases the recovery period is short.
Reviewed February 7, 2017