What you need to know about varicose and spider veins.

by Dr. Maggie Arnold, MD, Vascular Surgeon
June 17, 2020

Summer is just around the corner, and the warmer weather means it’s time to break out those shorts hidden in the back of your closet.

Unfortunately, many people will be apprehensive about reaching for those shorts and showing off a little more skin due to their varicose or spider veins. But luckily there are treatments that can help get rid of them and leave you feeling more confident, especially during the hot summer months.

An estimated 25 million people have #VaricoseVeins. Though often harmless, their appearance and uncomfortable symptoms can cause frustration. Dr. Arnold discusses causes, treatments, and more via #LiveWellHealthy blog: https://bit.ly/30Mkcwq.

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What are varicose and spider veins?

Both varicose and spider veins are enlarged superficial veins that most commonly develop on the legs. Varicose veins tend to be larger and described as “ropey”, whereas spider veins are smaller and look more like plant roots. Other vein qualities that are identifying factors include:

  • Bulging
  • Blue or red color
  • Starburst pattern (spider veins)

Most varicose and spider veins are easily visible through the skin, but they’re sometimes more difficult to identify if you’re lying down or your legs are elevated. So if you’re concerned and want to check for yourself, stand up for a few minutes in the same position and then take a look. Standing and putting pressure on your legs will allow them to be more visible.

Are they just cosmetic or something more serious?

When most people first seek help for their varicose veins, it’s because of a cosmetic issue. However, they can cause other uncomfortable symptoms, such as:

  • Painful sores
  • Heaviness in their legs
  • Burning sensation
  • Leg cramps

Experienced symptoms vary by patient, and some of these can also be symptoms of other serious issues, which is why it is important to see a board-certified vascular surgeon if you have concerns.

What causes varicose and spider veins, and can they be prevented?

While the exact cause is unknown, a contributing factor to them is excess pressure on the veins. Veins are responsible for returning blood from your feet back to your heart, but they don’t have the muscle to get that blood to your heart. Your calf muscle acts like a pump and squeezes the blood to push it up every time you step. You have valves inside of the veins that prevent the blood from moving backwards, but over time they can weaken, which causes the blood to pool. This can lead the veins to distend and the walls to weaken, which then leads to varicose veins.

Factors that can lead to developing varicose and spider veins.

Although anyone can develop varicose and spider veins, there are some who are more prone than others, including those that are:

  • Female
  • Pregnant
  • Overweight
  • Smokers

Men can certainly develop varicose and spider veins, but many female patients say they got their first varicose veins after their first pregnancy. Weight gain during pregnancy, as well as being overweight, increases the pressure on the veins which leads to the formation of varicose veins.

Ways to prevent varicose and spider veins.

As mentioned earlier, varicose and spider veins are formed because of increased pressure on the legs and weakened vein walls. Doing little things such as wearing compression stockings, walking, and elevating your legs can help prevent them. Since being overweight is a common cause of them, watching your weight and exercising can also help prevent them from forming. Getting up and moving around rather than sitting all day is one of the best ways to decrease your chances of developing varicose and spider veins.

But sometimes, despite doing all the right things, people still develop them. It’s frustrating, but we can help treat the ones you do have, and hope to help you prevent new ones from forming.

Watch the video below with Dr. Arnold to learn more about varicose and spider veins.

How do you treat varicose and spider veins?

The first step towards treatment for varicose and spider veins is scheduling an appointment to talk with a vascular surgeon so they can determine the best treatment option for you. During this appointment, your doctor will ask you questions about your daily routine like “are you on your feet a lot?” and “do you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk?”, along with questions about symptoms. They will then take a look at your legs and evaluate your varicose or spider veins. After, they typically will order a test called a venous reflux ultrasound study, which takes a closer look at your veins to assess whether or not they’re functioning properly. It is a simple, painless test that takes about 45 minutes to complete.

After your examination, your doctor will be able to better determine the best treatment option for you. Here are the three main types of treatment.

1. Conservative management.

This is usually the first line of treatment, and includes making lifestyle changes. Most of us have jobs where we spend all day sitting at a desk. Getting up and walking around is a great way to activate your calf muscle so that you return the blood back to your heart. Another thing you can do is elevate your legs for a bit on a stool or something at the office or at home. Just doing this for five minutes every hour can make a big difference to help the blood drain.

Compression stockings are another form of conservative management, and it is something I prescribe to all my patients. They work by squeezing the vein to help the blood from pooling and prevent the wall from getting weak. While compression stockings are very effective, they won’t get rid of varicose veins, but they can help manage the symptoms.

2. Venous closure.

If conservative management doesn’t work, venous closure is another treatment option that is very successful. During this procedure, a small tube is inserted into the vein and heat is used to close it. This prevents blood from going into the vein that is not working properly, and forces it to go to the veins that are.

This procedure is low-risk, done in the office, causes only minimal pain or discomfort, and patients are up and moving the same day. Most patients experience mild bruising with this form of treatment, but it typically lasts only a couple weeks.

3. Sclerotherapy.

Sclerotherapy is the procedure used to treat spider veins. A chemical is injected into the little spider veins, which closes off the vein. The procedure itself only takes a few minutes.

This procedure is also a well tolerated, low-risk procedure with a fast recovery. Some patients may experience minor side effects such as bruising, swelling, and skin discoloration.

Why is it important to see a vascular surgeon about varicose and spider veins?

Even though a lot of providers can perform vein treatment options, it is best to see a board- certified vascular surgeon if you have concerns about your veins and are seeking treatment. As mentioned earlier, non-cosmetic symptoms of varicose veins can be signs of more serious issues, and vascular surgeons are better able to look for other problems that may be going on with your legs. What you may think is a problem your veins could be a life-threatening arterial problem. Vascular surgeons can not only diagnose that, but can also potentially treat it. They offer a full spectrum of care, and are the ones who can help you best.

If you want to schedule an appointment with Dr. Arnold, please call her office at 443-777-1900.

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Category: Health Innovation, Living Well     Tags: MedStar HealthSpider veinsVaricose veins