While the appearance alone of varicose or spider veins is enough to trigger most to explore their treatment options, they can also cause serious discomfort. And some varicose veins can put you at risk for a complication, like a blood clot or open sores on your legs.
Varicose and spider veins are damaged veins. They develop when tiny, one-way valves inside the veins weaken. In healthy veins, the valves keep the blood moving toward the heart. But when a valve weakens, some of the blood flows backward and accumulates in the vein, which then puts added pressure on the walls of the vein.
Over time, that constant strain weakens the vein’s walls and causes the vein to bulge.
Varicose and spider veins become more common with age and during pregnancy, but some people are at a higher risk of developing them simply because their blood relatives have them, or because they sit or stand for long periods most days of the week.
There are a number of treatments for leg veins, but sclerotherapy is the most common—and the most effective.
It involves injecting a solution directly into the vein, which causes the vein to scar. That forces the blood to reroute through healthier veins. The scarred vein will collapse and then be absorbed into the local tissue. In the process, sclerotherapy can also improve the related symptoms, including:
- Night cramps
What the procedure’s like
Sclerotherapy is done right in a dermatologist’s office, and it usually doesn’t require anesthesia. A typical treatment takes less than an hour.
You’ll lie on your back, legs slightly elevated. The dermatologist will use a fine needle to slowly insert the solution into the targeted vein. The solutions are usually in liquid form, though a foam version is sometimes used for larger veins because it tends to cover more surface area. Some solutions also contain a local anesthetic.
The dermatologist will apply compression to the area after withdrawing the needle to help spread the solution and keep blood out of the injected vein.
The number of injections you receive will depend on the number and size of the veins being treated. Two to three treatments generally yield the best results.
What you can expect after the procedure
Spider veins usually disappear within three to six weeks. For varicose veins, because they’re larger, it’ll be three to four months . Veins that respond to the treatment generally don’t come back, but new veins may appear.
You’ll be able walk around soon after the procedure. In fact, it’s a critical part of the process, because moving your legs will help prevent the formation of blood clots. You should be able to pick back up with your normal activities later that day, but it’s a good idea to avoid strenuous exercise for about two weeks.
The dermatologist will also likely ask you to wear compression socks or stockings for about two weeks to maintain pressure on the treated veins. They’re helpful for keeping the treated areas out of the sun, too. Inflammation caused by the injections coupled with sun exposure can lead to dark spots on your skin.