Spider veins (telangiectasias) are small red and bluish-purple blood vessels that most people commonly find on their thighs or lower legs. They affect a small percentage of men and more than half of all women.
While spider veins are not medically dangerous, they sometimes cause mild to moderate discomfort ranging from a dull throbbing to a burning sensation. Spider veins may appear as thin, unconnected lines or connected lines that intersect in a sunburst or spider web pattern. They may be very faint and barely noticeable, or they may be prominent and what some consider unsightly.
Many women develop spider veins during pregnancy or later in life – although anyone at any age can get them. Genetics and female hormones seem to play a role, and people who spend extended periods of time sitting or standing are at higher risk.
While there is no sure way to prevent spider veins, it may help to stay at a healthful weight, exercise, maintain a high-fiber diet, wear compression stockings and avoid wearing high-heeled shoes.
Sclerotherapy is a common treatment that involves injecting a liquid chemical that causes the vein walls to seal shut and stop the flow of blood – fading the veins over time. In the past, saline was frequently used; however, there are now additional U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved agents used in sclerotherapy.
There is also a newer treatment, Veinwave, which the FDA approved in June 2009. Veinwave is a relatively painless outpatient procedure with no risk of bruising or scarring. It uses a small, heated wire to target each individual vein for treatment. Veinwave can be used in conjunction with sclerotherapy.
Depending on the extent of spider veins, some patients may need to repeat treatment. Some insurance companies pay for the pretreatment consultation, although many insurance companies consider spider vein treatments to be cosmetic and will not cover the corrective procedures. Each patient should check with his or her insurer.
Spider veins are not harmful, but many people dislike the way they look or feel. The good news is that simple, effective treatments are available to improve appearance and relieve symptoms.
Dr. Corito Tolentino is a vascular specialist and interventional radiologist in the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Vascular Surgery Department.
The Palo Alto Medical Foundation and editor Arian Dasmalchi provide this monthly informational column.