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What are spider veins?

Spider veins, commonly found on the face and legs, are caused by the dilation of a small group of blood vessels near the skin's surface. They often look like red or purple sunbursts or web patterns.

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are caused by swollen or enlarged blood vessels. The blood vessels have enlarged due a weakening in the vein's wall or valves. Located deeper in the skin than spider veins, they can appear raised and often are blue.

Varicose veins can be serious because it may be associated with the development of one or more of the following conditions:

  • Phlebitis - inflammation of the vein
  • Thrombosis - occurs when blood clots form in the enlarged vein
  • Venous stasis ulcers - an ulcer is formed when there is not proper drainage in the enlarged vein

An estimated 80 million Americans suffer from varicose or spider veins. Although the exact cause for either is unknown, pregnancy, heredity, and hormonal changes seem to be contributing factors.

Treatment for spider and varicose veins:

There are a number of options to choose from in regards to the treatment of varicose or spider veins. They are as follows:

  • Sclerotherapy - This procedure involves the injection of a concentrated saline or specially-developed solution into the spider or varicose vein. The solution then hardens causing the vein to close up or collapse. Healthier blood vessels located nearby absorb the blood flow of the collapsed vein.
  • Ambulatory phlebectomy - Ambulatory phlebectomy involves the removal of the vein by tiny punctures or incisions along the path of the enlarged vein. Through these tiny holes, the surgeon uses a surgical hook to remove the varicose vein.
  • Electrodesiccation - This procedure involves the sealing of the veins with the use of an electrical current.
  • Laser surgery and intense pulsed light therapy - Abnormal veins are destroyed by high intensity laser beams or intense pulsating light.
  • Surgical ligation and stripping - This procedure involves the surgeon making an incision in the skin and removing or tying off the blood vessel.

Possible complications associated with the treatment of spider or varicose veins:

  • Pigmentation changes - Brownish splotches near the treated area may appear. This may take several months or even up to a year to fade.
  • Allergic reaction and scarring - Allergic reactions from the injected chemical solution, as well as permanent scarring, may result.
  • Telangiectatic matting - This reaction involves the appearance of fine reddish blood vessels near the treated area. Treatment for this condition may require further injections.
  • Blood clots - Treatment could cause blood clots in the veins.

Who are candidates for sclerotherapy?

Women and men of any age may be candidates for sclerotherapy, but most are 30 to 60 years in age. Spider veins are more common in women. Men do have spider veins, but often do not consider them to be a cosmetic problem because the veins are usually concealed by hair growth on the leg.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should postpone sclerotherapy treatment because:

  • Spider veins that occur during pregnancy usually disappear on their own.
  • It is not known how sclerosing solutions may affect breast milk.

About the procedure:

  • Location options include:
    • Surgeon's office-based surgical facility
    • Outpatient surgery center
    • Hospital outpatient
    • Hospital inpatient
  • Anesthetic options include:
    • Local anesthesia
    • General anesthesia
  • Recovery period:

A compression bandage may be applied on the treated area following the procedure. Support hose may be recommended for a while.

Contact Us

For more information about UM Division of Plastic Surgery or to make an appointment, please call 1-800-492-5538 or 410-328-2360 (patients) or 1-800-373-4111 (physicians).