Millions of women are bothered by spider veins – those small yet unsightly clusters of red, blue or purple veins that most commonly appear on the thighs, calves and ankles. In fact, it’s estimated that at least half of the adult female population is plagued with this common cosmetic problem. For a 3D animation of spider vein treatment, click HERE.
Today, many plastic surgeons are treating spider veins with sclerotherapy. In this rather simple procedure, veins are injected with a sclerosing solution, which causes them to collapse and fade from view.
Although this procedure has been used in Europe for more than 50 years, it has only become popular in the United States during the past decade. The introduction of sclerosing agents that are mild enough to be used in small veins has made sclerotherapy predictable and relatively painless.
Spider veins – known in the medical world as telangiectasias – are small, thin veins that lie close to the surface of the skin. Although these super-fine veins are connected with the larger venous system, they are not an essential part of it.
A number of factors contribute to the development of spider veins, including heredity, pregnancy and other events that cause hormonal shifts, weight gain, occupations or activities that require prolonged sitting or standing.
Spider veins usually take on one of three basic patterns. They may appear in a true spider shape with a group of veins radiating outward from a dark central point; they may be arborizing and will resemble tiny branch-like shapes; or they may be simple linear and appear as thin separate lines. Linear spider veins are commonly seen on the inner knee, whereas the arborizing pattern often appears on the outer thigh in a sunburst or cartwheel distribution.
Varicose veins differ from spider veins in a number of ways. Varicose veins are larger – usually more than a quarter-inch in diameter, darker in color and tend to bulge. Varicose veins are also more likely to cause pain and be related to more serious vein disorders. For some patients, sclerotherapy can be used to treat varicose veins. However, surgical treatment is often necessary for this condition.
Women of any age may be good candidates for sclerotherapy, but most fall in the 30-to-60 category. In some women, spider veins may become noticeable very early on – in the teen years. For others, the veins may not become obvious until they reach their 40s.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you may be advised to postpone sclerotherapy treatment. In most cases, spider veins that surface during pregnancy will disappear on their own within three months after the baby is born. Also, because it’s not known how sclerosing solutions may affect breast milk, nursing mothers are usually advised to wait until after they have stopped breastfeeding.
Spider veins in men aren’t nearly as common as they are in women. Men who do have spider veins often don’t consider them to be a cosmetic problem because the veins are usually concealed by hair growth on the leg. However, sclerotherapy is just as effective for men who seek treatment.
Sclerotherapy can enhance your appearance and your self-confidence. After each sclerotherapy session, the veins will appear lighter. Two or more sessions are usually required to achieve optimal results.
Sclerotherapy of spider veins is a relatively simple procedure that requires no anesthesia, so it will be performed in the outpatient setting of the office.
A typical sclerotherapy session is relatively quick, lasting only about 15 minutes to an hour. After changing into shorts, your legs may be photographed for your medical records. You will be asked to lie down on the examination table and the skin over your spider veins will be cleaned with an antiseptic solution.
Approximately one injection is administered for every inch of spider vein – anywhere from five to 40 injections per treatment session. A cotton ball and compression tape is applied to each area of the leg as it is finished.
In addition to the compression tape applied during the procedure, tight-fitting support hose may be prescribed to guard against blood clots and to promote healing. The tape and cotton balls can be removed after 24 hours. However, you may be instructed to wear the support hose for 72 hours or more.
Although you probably won’t want to wear any leg-baring fashions for about two weeks, your activity will not be significantly limited in any other way from sclerotherapy treatment.
A one-month healing interval must pass before you may have your second series of injections in the same site. After each treatment, you will notice further improvement of your legs’ appearance.
Patients are often very pleased with the difference sclerotherapy makes. The skin of your legs will appear younger, clearer and more healthy-looking. If you’ve been wearing long skirts and slacks to hide your spider veins, you’ll now be able to broaden your fashion horizons. Often, patients are surprised at the dramatic difference in appearance between a treated leg and an untreated one.
Please note that the information provided in this discussion is an expression of Dr. Maier’s philosophy and practice