Varicose veins and spider veins are both relatively common medical conditions and their treatment options may overlap. That, of course, doesn’t make you feel any better about them when they appear on your legs. While they are similar conditions, there are some differences between the two. At Commonwealth Vein Center in Richmond and Colonial Heights, Virginia, we can help you understand the differences in varicose veins versus spider veins.
What Are Spider Veins?
Spider veins appear as small web-like areas of discoloration. The most commonly show up on the lower legs, but they can also appear pretty much anywhere. The name comes from their appearance, which looks like a spider’s web. They are the result of small amounts of blood pooling in surface blood vessels and small veins.
Spider veins usually have a purplish, red, or blue color. They most often cause no pain or discomfort, but they may lead you to feel embarrassed or self-conscious. Many people try to hide their spider veins from view, which can lead to social withdrawal. It may even cause you to stop doing activities you enjoy like going to the beach or pool. For the most part, spider veins are considered harmless. However, they can be an indicator that you are more likely to develop larger varicose veins.
What Are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins appear when sections of surface-level veins become filled with blood. The result is a bunched, bulging appearance like a piece of twisted cord just under the skin. They often look blue or purple, and many people find them to be embarrassing and unsightly. Most varicose veins appear on the legs, although they can also develop in other areas. For example, hemorrhoids are varicose veins in or around the rectum.
Varicose veins may be painful and can lead to inflammation in the surrounding area. They may cause your legs to feel heavy or achy, and you may also experience red, itchy, and scaly skin around the affected vein. In some cases, varicose veins lead to ulcers around the feet and ankles that do not heal properly.
Any time you experience pain, pressure, or other symptoms along with varicose veins, you should seek immediate medical attention. At Commonwealth Vein Center, we can evaluate your condition and share treatment options to help relieve your symptoms.
What Causes Them to Form?
Both spider and varicose veins appearing on your legs result from blood pooling within damaged veins. Veins operate as a one-way system that is designed to carry deoxygenated blood back to your heart. Your arteries carry fresh blood in the other direction. This flow is controlled by small valves within your veins. They keep blood moving in one way and prevent it from flowing backward. Unfortunately, sometimes those veins become damaged or worn. When that happens, small amounts of blood can flow backward or pool and become stagnant.
The excess pressure of pooled blood damages your thin vein walls. They may become distorted and bulge. In some cases, blood vessels can also rupture. That damage is what you see on the surface of your legs. Not all spider and varicose veins appear on the legs. When they develop on your face, neck, and chest, it is often the result of burst blood vessels near the skin’s surface. Sun damage and excessive pressure are common causes of these types of spider veins.
Can Spider Veins Turn Into Varicose Veins?
Spider veins are not the same as varicose veins, and they cannot develop into them. However, they may be an indicator that you are more likely to develop varicose veins. Also, since similar lifestyle behaviors can increase your chances of developing both conditions, you may notice them occur together.
Are the Treatments Different for Varicose Veins Versus Spider Veins?
Although there is some overlap, there are some treatments that work better for varicose veins versus spider veins, and vice versa. You should fully understand what each treatment entails and which conditions they are most effective at treating before you make a decision. At Commonwealth Vein Center in Richmond and Colonial Heights, Virginia, we offer several options for these common venous disorders.
The gold standard of varicose and spider vein treatments, sclerotherapy has been used in one form or another since the 1930s. It is considered safe and effective for treating small- to medium-sized venous disorders. Sclerotherapy is minimally invasive, requiring only an injection. During a treatment, a special type of irritant called a sclerosant is injected into the affected vein. Most sclerosants are either a gel or foam-like consistency.
This causes irritation and swelling, which leads to the vein closing itself off. Once a vein swells shut, the blood flow is diverted to a nearby, healthy vein. The damaged one will eventually dissolve and get absorbed into the surrounding tissue or expelled by the body. As that happens, the spider veins after treatment become less visible and eventually disappear.
There is little downtime and virtually no recovery period with sclerotherapy. We will go over post-treatment care with you before you leave our office, however, you should expect to keep compression on the area for several days or a week.
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) treatments are a popular treatment option for larger varicose veins. These use the same technology that is also used to treat damaged or inflamed nerves. It is a minimally invasive treatment that uses heat to destroy affected vein tissue. During your RFA session, our specialists will use a medical imaging device to locate the affected vein. We will then insert a catheter into your vein and thread it toward the damaged section. Radiofrequency waves will then be used to deliver heat through the catheter as it is slowly and carefully eased through your vein.
As the heat is applied, it causes your diseased vein to collapse and die. Once that happens, your blood flow will be diverted to healthy veins nearby. Much like after sclerotherapy treatment, the vein is naturally absorbed into the surrounding tissue or expelled from your body is it breaks down. RFA sessions are done right in our office and typically last 45 minutes to one hour. You may want to plan a little extra time for preparation beforehand and getting follow up instructions afterward. You will receive a local anesthetic to help you stay comfortable, so you will be able to drive yourself to the treatment appointment.
You will likely need to wear a compression stocking for several days to a couple of weeks after an RFA treatment. You may also be instructed to keep the treated leg elevated, which reduces the chance of bruising. Walking is often encouraged in the days after your treatment, but you’ll want to avoid heavy exercise for at least a few days.
If a minimally invasive treatment is appealing to you, then you might want to learn more about VenaSeal. This uses a special medical-grade adhesive to seal off affected veins quickly and comfortably. Because they seal almost immediately, the results may be quicker than with some other minimally invasive methods.
The treatment itself is relatively quick. Once the affected area is located, the adhesive is injected directly into it. You may receive a local anesthetic to ensure you remain comfortable during the appointment. VenaSeal is performed right in our office, and you can be back to your regular routine quickly afterward. In most cases, you won’t even need to wear compression stockings after treatment.
VenaSeal results generally last for several years. It is an effective varicose and spider veins treatment, but it cannot prevent new ones from forming. You should adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors to help minimize any further damage to your veins.
Used exclusively to treat varicose veins, Varithena is a minimally invasive treatment option. It may work for you even if other varicose vein treatments have failed. Varithena uses a microfoam that causes severe damage to the affected vein. It then scars over and dissolves, getting absorbed into the body or expelled from it.
The treatment process is relatively quick. You will receive a topical anesthetic to ensure you remain comfortable throughout tit. While you will be able to resume normal activity fairly quickly, in most cases you should avoid exercise or strenuous activity for a week or so after your appointment. You will also most likely need to wear a compression stocking for a couple of weeks while you are healing.
A comprehensive, yet minimally invasive, treatment, ClariVein® uses a hybrid process to produce results. During treatment, a catheter is inserted into a vein. It is fitted with a special tip that rotates and strips the vein wall of its protective cellular layer. A sclerosant is then injected into the affected vein to cause irritation. ClariVein® does not require the use of lidocaine, which makes it an attractive option if you have an allergy to the anesthetic.
A phlebectomy is the most invasive of the varicose vein treatments. It involves making a small incision and physically removing the vein from your leg. This is commonly used on larger varicose veins that may not respond well to other treatment methods. It is also often used in conjunction with another treatment like RFA for comprehensive and effective varicose vein removal.
During your treatment, a small hook device is used to grab and remove the affected vein. This is done under a local anesthetic so you will not feel any discomfort. That also means it can be done right in our office, so there are no special trips to a hospital or outpatient surgery center.
The recovery period for a phlebectomy will be the longest of all the treatment options. While you will receive specific instructions after your appointment, you should expect to wear compression stockings while the area heals and to avoid intense exercise for a short period of time afterward.
Who Is a Good Candidate for Treatment?
For many people, the decision on whether or not to treat spider or varicose veins is a cosmetic one. If you are ready to show off your legs without having to worry about hiding them under wraps, long skirts, or pants no matter what the season, then you might be a good candidate for treatment.
If your varicose veins cause discomfort, then you should definitely seek treatment. Symptoms may range from pain and swelling to intense itching or sores in the surrounding skin. If you notice any of those symptoms, our professional staff can share information about treatment options with you. There are times when you should forego or postpone treatment. This may include certain medical conditions like blood clots or infection, or if you have severely limited mobility.
Are You Ready to Learn More?
When you are ready to learn more, we are here to help. Contact the Commonwealth Vein Center in Richmond, Virginia to learn more about varicose veins and spider veins treatments. We can schedule an initial consultation where you can explore the various treatment options and decide which one is best for you. Schedule your appointment today!