Spider Veins and Varicose Veins
Spider veins and varicose veins are twisted, swollen veins or abnormally large vessels that usually appear on the legs. Women are more prone to them than men and they are more prevalent with age. Spider veins and varicose veins are typically painless and are unlikely to cause any serious health problems.
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Also known as telangiectasias, spider veins are clusters of tiny blood vessels which tend to develop close to the skin’s surface. They are often purple, blue or red in colour and their appearance looks like that of a spiderweb or tree branches. Spider veins are found on the feet and legs.
Varicose veins are abnormally large twisted veins that can be red, blue or skin coloured. They usually appear as dilated, bulging and twisting vessels that may be raised above the skin’s surface. Varicose veins can appear on the backs and front of calves, thighs and inside the legs near the ankles and feet. They can also appear around the inner thigh, buttocks and lower pelvic area during pregnancy.
Risk Factors of spider veins and varicose veins
Spider veins and varicose veins are common in adults, but women have a higher chance of developing them more than men. Risk factors that increase the chance of developing spider veins and varicose veins includes:
- Birth control pills
- Hormone therapy (HT)
- Prolonged sitting/standing
- Advanced age
- History of blood clots
- Prior vein surgery
- Family history
Causes of Spider and Varicose Veins
Spider veins and varicose veins usually occur due to structural abnormalities of the blood vessels. Veins transport blood from different parts of the body to the heart. The veins have valves which act as one-way flaps, but these valves can become defective and allow blood to leak backwards within the veins. This causes pooling of blood and the pressure increases resulting in the weakening of the blood vessel wall. Due to the engorgement and dilation of the blood vessels which are affected, varicose veins and spider veins develop.
Symptoms of Spider and Varicose Veins
Individuals who have spider veins and varicose veins often do not show any symptoms other than the undesirable appearance of the veins. However, there are some individuals who may feel like their legs are extremely heavy, tired or achy, and this gets worse after standing or sitting for a long period of time. Other symptoms may include swelling, itching and cramping or throbbing of the affected leg.
Spider veins and varicose veins rarely cause serious complications, but some individuals may develop skin ulcers. These are open wounds which tend to appear on the lower leg and can result in soft tissue infections. Developing localized bleeding from varicose veins or blood clots within the veins can also occur.
Diagnosis of Spider Veins and Varicose Veins
Diagnosing spider veins and varicose veins usually involves a physical examination by your doctor while you are sitting down, and also standing up. You will also be asked about your symptoms. To rule out other conditions, your doctor may recommend other tests such as:
- Ultrasound to check the blood flow in the veins and to look for leaky or weakened valves and blood clots.
- Venogram to get a closer look at blood flow in the veins. This test is normally done when a large blood clot is suspected. It involves using a dye to help see the veins in your legs.
Treatment of Spider Veins and Varicose Veins
The type of treatment given depends on the symptoms you’re presenting. Treatment for spider veins and varicose veins includes:
- Lifestyle changes: Weight loss and regular exercise can help in reliving the symptoms of spider veins and varicose veins. Affected individuals should elevate their legs when sitting or sleeping and avoid standing or sitting down for prolonged periods of time. This improves circulation and decreases swelling.
- Compression stockings: Also called support stockings, they increase pressure in the legs thereby improving circulation.
- Sclerotherapy: This procedure is usually performed in a doctor’s office and it involves injecting a liquid solution directly to the affected vein. It results in the vein collapsing and eventually fading away. For optimal results, several sessions may be required.
- Vein surgery: This is an option for more severe cases. There are various surgical procedures available and one of them is vein ligation and stripping. This involves cutting and tying off the vein that is affected (ligation) and surgically removing (stripping) it through small incisions in the skin.
- Ambulatory phlebectomy: This is a surgical procedure that is done to remove the varicose veins that are just beneath the skin’s surface. It involves the doctor making tiny incisions in the skin and pulling out the affected vein out of the leg using hooks. One treatment session is usually enough, and you can return to your daily activities a day later. Healthy veins then take over the normal blood flow.
- Laser therapy: This involves using a focused beam of light to heat and damage the affected blood vessel, which will result in its fading. This treatment is mostly effective for spider veins and tiny varicose veins.
- Laser and radiofrequency ablation (Endovenous thermal therapy): This procedure is used to treat the larger bulging surface veins of the leg. It involves inserting a small tube into the vein with a device at the tip of it which heats up the inside of the vein and closes it off permanently. Healthy veins then take over the normal blood flow.
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