Spider veins, and their close cousin varicose veins, are an unsightly and sometimes uncomfortable problem, usually found on the legs. They can be severe enough to cause distress and self-consciousness in the sufferer, leading to restrictions in hobbies and activities and even affecting day to day clothing choices, as the patient will tend towards full length skirts or trousers and avoid beachwear items like shorts and swim-suits.
Spider veins are not life-threatening, but they can affect a patient’s quality of life. Spider veins are smaller than varicose veins and appear just under the surface of the skin. The veins can look like light wisps, or they can be more defined and they can appear red, bluish or purple in colour. When there is a cluster of spider veins together it can appear as though the sufferer has a large bruise. Varicose veins are larger and more ‘ropey’ looking. They seem to twist and turn more and actually bulge up above the skin surface. Normally these bulges are soft and spongy to the touch, but if a clot or thrombosis forms inside the vein it can become hardened and cause discomfort.
Badly affected veins can itch and cause skin discolouration, particularly in the ankle area. If an affected vein is bumped or scraped it can bleed profusely and this can leave ugly scars. These complications and symptoms are rare though, and most people do not suffer any medical distress due to their spider veins. However, the condition can cause self-image issues and knock a sufferer’s confidence.
Spider veins are caused by abnormalities within the veins of the legs, which allow blood to begin to flow down vessels which should only be used for sending blood up, back into the body. The valves along the length of the vein hold the blood, distending and warping the walls of the vessel, causing spider veins or worse.
The condition can occur at any time, but usually strikes between the ages of 18 and 35 and peaks in the late 50s to mid-60s. Four times more women are affected than men, and it is customary for the veins to appear during pregnancy. It is believed that the condition is hereditary, but it can also appear spontaneously, be caused by injury to the site or be a result of a poor lifestyle. It is found in a fairly high proportion of obese patients.
Treating Spider Veins
Treatment can include removal by surgery at a clinic to strip out the offending vessels, laser treatment which can take less than an hour. After the latter, the patient must go for a short walk, but after that can continue their regular lives. Sclerotherapy involves having a liquid injected into the problem vein. The liquid works to reshape and tighten the vein from the inside. Most patients require up to three attempts – although some have reported immediate improvements – and can see an average improvement of 50 to 60 percent overall. The patient must wear support or compression tights for a month after the injections. Some GPs recommend that going for a daily walk can reduce or eradicate spider veins. Any form of leg exercise, they say, will boost circulation and work to improve the flow of those faulty veins.