Veins are blood vessels that carry blood from your body's tissues to your heart. The heart pumps blood to your lungs to pick up oxygen. The oxygen-rich blood flows through tiny blood vessels called capillaries, where it gives up its oxygen to the body's tissues. Your blood then returns to your heart through your veins.
Veins have one-way valves that help keep blood flowing toward your heart. If your valves are weak or damaged, blood can back up and pool in your veins. This causes the veins to swell leading to varicose veins.
Varicose veins are abnormal, swollen blood vessels caused by a weakening of the vessel wall. They might appear as clusters of blue or purple veins. They are sometimes surrounded by thin red capillaries known as spider veins (a group of small blood vessels located close to the surface of the skin).
Varicose and spider veins can appear anywhere, but they often appear on the legs and in the pelvic area. Most varicose veins develop near the surface of the skin. Deeper varicose veins cannot be seen, but may cause the skin above them to swell, become darker, or harden.
When the blood vessel walls weaken, veins swell causing blood to back up and pool inside the vein. Normally, blood flows through the vein in one direction toward the heart. Varicose veins become a new route for blood to flow.
Symptoms usually appear before the age of 40 and might include:
During a physical exam, the doctor will check your legs while you are standing. Your doctor might also request that you have a Doppler Scan, an ultrasound exam to check the blood flow in the veins near the skin's surface (superficial veins) and deep veins.
Depending on their size and location, varicose and spider veins can be treated with surgery, injections (sclerotherapy), or laser surgery.
Sclerotherapy is a non-surgical treatment option that involves injecting a chemical solution into the veins to make them collapse. As the veins can no longer carry blood, they will eventually disappear. Circulation improves because the work of carrying the blood is shifted to nearby healthy blood vessels.
Sclerotherapy requires multiple sessions. One to 3 injections are usually required to effectively treat any vein. Ten to 40 veins may be treated in one session. The same area should not be re-injected for 4 - 6 weeks to allow for complete healing, although other areas may be treated during this time.
Sclerotherapy does not require anesthesia.
No, you will feel no pain during the treatment sessions. However, you will feel discomfort due to the sensation of the small needle pricks.
Temporary reactions to the sclerotherapy might include:
Rare complications include the development of telangiectasias (small clusters of red blood vessels, skin ulcerations, and brown pigmentation around the treated vessels).
Once treated, the veins disappear over a period of 6 months and do not recur. But sclerotherapy treatment cannot stop new varicose or spider veins from developing.
For 2- 4 weeks after treatment, you will wear medical-grade support stockings. Walking and moderate exercise can also help speed recovery.
There are many ways to keep varicose veins from recurring or worsening. Regular exercise, standing only when necessary, and elevating your legs while sitting and sleeping might keep varicose and spider veins from worsening. When you need to stand for long periods of time, take frequent breaks to sit down and elevate your feet.
Wearing special elastic support stockings during daily activities can provide extra support and relieve aching, sore legs.
Varicose and spider veins might not always require medical treatment. If varicose veins make walking or standing painful, you should call your doctor for advice.
You should also call your doctor if a sore develops on or near a varicose vein, or if your feet or ankles swell.
In some cases, varicose veins can be harmful to your health because they might be associated with the development of:
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 07/15/2019