Spider veins (telangiectasias) are those tiny, unsightly blood vessels that seem to pop up as we age. The most common places to see them are on the legs and the face. Patients often ask about what causes these vessels to develop and whether they can be treated.
What Causes Spider Veins?
Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to prevent them from showing up. The biggest risk factor is genetics. If your mom and grandmother and sisters all have spider veins, it’s likely that you will too at some point. There are lifestyle choices that will increase your risk of developing them (these should be avoided if possible). Things that decrease the circulation in your lower legs will increase your risk of developing spider and varicose veins. These include smoking, obesity and extended periods of sitting or standing (if you have a desk job or a job as a hair dresser or bank teller you may be at higher risk.)
What Can I do to Improve Spider Veins?
If you already have them (like a majority of adults do), there are some simple things that you can do to improve them. Increasing the strength and muscle mass of your lower legs will improve the circulation by acting as a pump which pushes the blood back up your legs. You can also wear compression stockings to help with upward circulation. If you have them, varicose veins should be treated.
Are there Medical Treatments Available to treat Spider Veins?
When it comes to spider veins, there are generally 2 treatment methods offered which will improve the appearance of the vessels. Keep in mind that these treatments do not improve the causes of the spider veins (genetics, poor circulation, etc), so it is likely that repeat treatments will be necessary at some point.
The first method of treating the spider veins is with sclerotherapy. Sclerotherapy is a procedure in which a sclerosant (usually a concentrated salt solution or a detergent) is injected directly into the vessel. Ideally, this will cause the blood vessel to scar down, closing the lumen and improving the appearance. The procedure works well, however if the sclerosant is injected outside of the vessel it can cause damage to the surrounding tissues with resultant scarring. The spider veins are very tiny and it can be difficult to tell if the needle is actually inside of the vessel during the treatment. The appearance of the scarring can be as bad (if not worse) than the appearance of the vessels prior to the treatment.
The second option for treatment is a laser based therapy. At Imagen, we use a 1064 Nd:YAG laser to selectively target the hemoglobin within the blood vessels, decreasing the risk of damage to surrounding tissues. This allows treatment of smaller vessels in addition to the somewhat larger ones. Most patients need multiple treatments to get the results that they desire and you will likely need touch up treatments as new vessels form. As with any cosmetic procedure there are risks, the most common being bruising and some discomfort.