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Apr 16

Spider Veins

Roughly half of all Americans will develop some type of vein problem during their lives. Among the most common, and the most treatable, are varicose and spider veins. You may be familiar with varicose veins – the enlarged and discolored veins that typically occur on the legs, most often on adults over 50. Spider veins are similar to varicose veins, but they are smaller and can appear on the face as well as the legs. As their name suggests, they look like a fine spider web of reddish or bluish streaks just below the surface of the skin.

How Do Spider Veins Develop?

When the heart pumps, it sends blood through the arteries to the tissues of the body. The blood flows through veins on its return trip to the heart. Since most of the body is below the heart, most of the returning blood is fighting the flow of gravity on this return trip. For this reason veins have valves – small flaps – that close after the blood flows through them to prevent the blood from leaking back. Both spider and varicose veins typically are caused by weakness in these valves that causes some blood to pool in the veins instead of returning to the heart.

Varicose_veins

A number of factors can contribute to weakening of the valves that lead to spider veins.

  • Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle both place a greater strain on your veins by forcing your heart to pump harder to circulate blood though the legs.
  • Pregnant women experience a dramatic increase in blood supply, which can enlarge the veins and lead to varicose and spider veins.
  • Changes in hormone levels can also increase the risk of developing spider veins. This includes both natural hormonal changes such as puberty and menopause, and changes caused by birth control medications.
  • Excessive exposure to sun can cause spider veins, especially in individuals with very fair complexions.
  • Simply aging increases one’s risk of developing spider veins. Half of all Americans over 50 suffer from varicose veins, spider veins, or both.

Prevention of Spider Veins

Although spider veins are rarely dangerous, they can be both uncomfortable and embarrassing for many people. However, even if spider veins don’t represent an immediate health concern, if you suffer from them you should take steps to prevent them from becoming worse. These include regular exercise and avoiding long stretches of sitting or standing in one place. When you do sit, try not to cross your legs, and elevate them if at all possible. Since constipation can contribute to spider and varicose veins, a high-fiber diet can decrease your chances of developing them.

Credit: WebMD

Credit: WebMD

Treatment of Spider Veins

There are several popular methods of treating spider veins. Compression stockings are a widely used non-surgical method of treatment. They work by putting pressure on the veins to help force the blood back up to the heart. These can range from a simple pair of support pantyhose to custom-made prescription-strength compression hose.

For vein problems that cannot be addressed by wearing compression hose, vascular surgery is an option. Several minimally invasive surgical procedures are used to treat spider veins. The most common of these is sclerotherapy, in which a chemical injected into the vein causes the vein wall to swell and seal shut. While traditional sclerotherapy is used to treat visible spider veins, a new technique called echo-sclerotherapy uses ultrasound imaging to allow doctors to treat those veins not visible on the surface. Both techniques can be performed in the doctor’s office without anesthesia and require no recovery time.

Lasers are increasingly being used to treat spider veins in place of sclerotherapy. Intense bursts of laser light are used to gradually fade the spider veins. While laser treatment is non-invasive, the laser is very hot and can be painful. As with sclerotherapy, laser treatment can be done in the doctor’s office and requires no anesthesia or recovery time.

Keep in mind that even after surgical treatment, spider veins may return. All of these techniques can effectively remove or eliminate the appearance of older spider veins, but there is no treatment for the underlying cause – weak valves. The best course of action is to take the steps mentioned above to reduce the risk of making the situation worse and to speak with your physician about follow-up treatments or if you suffer pain or other complications following treatment.

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