DIMINISHING UNSIGHTLY ‘SPIDER VEINS’
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.
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. The procedure may also remedy the bothersome symptoms associated with spider veins, including aching, burning, swelling and night cramps.
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.
If you’re considering sclerotherapy to improve the appearance of your legs, this brochure will give you a basic understanding of the procedure – when it can help, how it’s performed and what results you can expect. It won’t answer all of your questions, since a lot depends on your individual circumstances. Please ask your doctor if there is anything about the procedure you don’t understand.
WHAT ARE SPIDER VEINS?
Spider veins – known in the medical world as telangiectasias or sunburst varicosities – 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, and the use of certain medications.
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 colour 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, often-surgical treatment is necessary for this condition.
THE BEST CANDIDATES FOR SCLEROTHERAPY
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.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM SCLEROTHERAPY
Sclerotherapy can enhance your appearance and your self-confidence, but it’s unrealistic to believe that every affected vein will disappear completely as a result of treatment. After each sclerotherapy session, the veins will appear lighter. Two or more sessions are usually required to achieve optimal results.
You should also be aware that the procedure treats only those veins that are currently visible; it does nothing to permanently alter the venous system or prevent new veins from surfacing in the future.
Before you decide to have sclerotherapy, think carefully about your expectations and discuss them with your doctor.
RISKS RELATED TO TREATMENT
Serious medical complications from sclerotherapy are extremely rare when the procedure is performed by a qualified practitioner. However, they may occur. Risks include the formation of blood clots in the veins, severe inflammation, and adverse allergic reactions to the sclerosing solution and skin injury that could leave a small but permanent scar.
A common cosmetic complication is pigmentation irregularity – brownish splotches on the affected skin that may take months to fade, sometimes up to a year. Another problem that can occur is “telangiectatic matting,” in which fine reddish blood vessels appear around the treated area, requiring further injections.
You can reduce the risks associated with treatment by choosing a doctor who has adequate training in sclerotherapy and is well versed in the different types of sclerosing agents available. A qualified doctor can help you select which type of sclerosing medication is most appropriate for your needs.