Spider veins are those reddish, blue and sometimes purple veins that appear just beneath the surface of our skin. They may appear on arms, legs, face or even other parts of the body, but wherever they surface they’re usually unwelcome.
Named for their spider-like appearance, they can be an eyesore and wreck havoc with our self-confidence. But what causes them, and what can we do about them?
Perhaps more importantly, what kind of threat do they pose beyond simply making us feel self-conscious?
Let’s start with one of the most important differentiators between spider veins, which are a cosmetic blemish, and varicose veins, which can cause more serious health problems.
The good news is that spider veins are not health or life threatening, whereas varicose veins can result in ulcers, blood clots, bleeding, swelling, pain and more.
Varicose veins should be diagnosed and treated by your doctor or vein specialist and then your doctor should continue to monitor the health of your veins via regular ultrasounds so that if you develop new varicose veins, they can be treated as well.
Spider veins, on the other hand, are merely a visual annoyance and while they may occasionally cause itching, they can be left untreated without risk of further symptoms.
There is one caveat, however, and that is that while spider veins themselves pose no threat, they can indicate an underlying condition that may require treatment. So even if you don’t mind their appearance, it’s a good idea to be sure that there is no deeper cause that may require your attention.
Spider veins can exist by themselves or can indicate an underlying problem, including other vein problems, poor circulation, hormonal changes, obesity and even injury. An ultrasound will be able to diagnose any hidden vein problems that should be treated, and it’s a good idea to see a doctor to rule out other causes.
If other causes are determined, it makes more sense to treat those conditions before treating the symptom, which in this case are the spider veins. Otherwise, you could be risking more damaging effects to your health and end up with recurring spider veins anyway.
Spider veins can also be genetic, or caused by aging and even pregnancy. In these instances, either hormonal changes or a weakening in the walls of the veins causes the broken capillaries that result in the visible effects under your skin.
The good news is that spider veins can be treated with several effective procedures.
Years ago, spider veins were treated with a saline solution that was injected into the vein.
However, with better treatment options available, concentrated saline solutions should no longer be used. Treatment with saline can be painful and cause a brown “stain” over the vein being treated – not exactly the cosmetic results you’re looking for.
Laser treatment is sometimes used as well, a procedure in which a laser fiber is inserted into the vein, generating enough heat to close off the vein and stop blood flow. This effectively eliminates visible signs of veins but it can also be painful and results vary. Laser therapy is typically not as effective on legs, for example, but may yield better results on the nose or cheeks.
The gold standard of treatment for spider veins, especially on arms and legs, is sclerotherapy. Sclerotherapy is a minimally invasive procedure in which medication is injected into the vein with the same effect of closing it off and reducing visibility.
This treatment requires no preparation, no anesthesia, no recovery time and no prescription painkillers afterwards. In fact, it’s a straightforward procedure that can be done in as little as 15 minutes, though you may need more than one injection or more than one treatment for particularly widespread cases.
Treated veins sometimes turn darker or appear bruised before they disappear. In some instances, they disappear immediately but then reappear and look worse for a short time before they finally go away.
Once spider veins are treated, they essentially die – that means they won’t reappear. But that doesn’t mean you’ll never develop spider veins again. Due to age, genetics or continued health issues, you may develop new spider veins, even in the same spot as treated areas. Women are even more susceptible to spider veins due to hormonal changes.
Typically, however, you can expect at least a 90% success rate in reducing or eliminating the appearance of spider veins within just a few days.
You can take certain measures to reduce the likelihood that you’ll develop varicose veins but there is no real way to prevent these unsightly pests from appearing.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including a healthy weight, healthy blood pressure, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, protecting yourself from excessive exposure to ultraviolet light and even wearing support or compression stockings if you spend a lot of time on your feet can help.
But ultimately many factors play into whether or not you’ll experience spider veins and while you may be able to exercise and wear sunscreen, you can’t change genetics or stop aging.
The good news is that you know they can be treated effectively with the right specialist and the right procedure. It’s also worth noting that as a cosmetic condition, spider vein treatment is typically not covered by insurance.
And remember, if you do have spider veins treated and they recur, it’s worth your time to safeguard your overall health and look into underlying causes. Medical conditions – including treatment for varicose veins – is covered by insurance, so don’t let fear of the cost prevent you from seeking treatment.
In fact, don’t let fear prevent you from seeking advice. You may be surprised to learn how simple, straightforward and pain-treatment can be even for varicose veins. If you have concerns or questions, just ask. As vein specialists we’re here to educate you so that you can make the best decisions for your body and health.