Varicose Veins

What are varicose veins and spider veins?

Varicose veins are enlarged veins that can be flesh colored, dark purple or blue. They often look like cords and appear twisted and bulging. They are swollen and raised above the surface of the skin. Varicose veins are commonly found on the backs of the calves or on the inside of the leg. During pregnancy, varicose veins called hemorrhoids can form in the vagina or around the anus.

Spider veins are similar to varicose veins, but they are smaller. They are often red or blue and are closer to the surface of the skin than varicose veins. They can look like tree branches or spider webs with their short jagged lines. Spider veins can be found on the legs and face. They can cover either a very small or very large area of skin.

What causes varicose veins and spider veins?

The heart pumps blood filled with oxygen and nutrients to the whole body. Arteries carry blood from the heart towards the body parts. Veins carry oxygen-poor blood from the body back to the heart.

The squeezing of leg muscles pumps blood back to the heart from the lower body. Veins have valves that act as one-way flaps. These valves prevent the blood from flowing backwards as it moves up the legs. If the one-way valves become weak, blood can leak back into the vein and collect there. This problem is called venous insufficiency. Pooled blood enlarges the vein and it becomes varicose, Spider veins can also be caused by the backup of blood. Hormone changes, inherited factors, and exposure to the sun can also cause spider veins.

Some available treatments include:

Sclerotherapy

This is the most common treatment for both spider veins and varicose veins. The doctor injects a solution into the vein that causes the vein walls to swell, stick together, and seal shut. This stops the flow of blood and the vein turns into scar tissue. In a few weeks, the vein should fade, The same vein may need to be treated more than once.

This treatment is very effective if done the right way. Most patients can expect a 50% to 90% improvement. Microsclerotherapy uses special solutions and injection techniques that increase the success rate for removal of spider veins. Sclerotherapy does not require anesthesia, and can be done in the doctor's office.

Endovenous Techniques (radiofrequency)

These methods for treating the deeper varicose veins of the legs (the saphenous veins).

The doctor puts a very small tube called a catheter into the vein. Once inside, the catheter sends out radiofiequency that shrinks and seals the vein wall. Healthy veins around the closed vein restore the normal flow of blood. As this happens, symptoms from the varicose vein improve. Veins on the surface of the skin that are connected to the treated varicose vein will also usually shrink after treatment. When needed, these connected varicose veins can be treated with sclerotherapy.

Surgical Ligation and Stripping

With this treatment, problematic veins are tied shut and completely removed from the leg. Removing the veins does not affect the circulation of blood in the leg. Veins deeper in the leg take care of the larger volumes of blood. Most varicose veins removed by surgery are surface veins and collect blood only from the skin. This surgery requires general anesthesia and must be done in an operating room on a day surgery basis.

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