Everybody has heard of varicose veins, which are large, contorted and swollen blood vessels that can clearly be seen bulging through the skin. But many people also suffer from spider veins. Spider veins are similar to varicose veins in that they are usually twisted and contorted and visible through the skin. However, they are finer and form spider-like clusters of thin, tangled blood vessels which usually appear purple or dark red. Like varicose veins, spider veins are easy to treat.
The causes of spider veins are numerous. Females are at a greater risk of developing this condition than men, and as many as 60% of adults will suffer from either varicose or spider veins at some point. The causes of spider veins include heredity, obesity and occupational factors, such as working in a job that requires you to stand for long periods of time. Hormones also play an important role in spider vein formation, with puberty, pregnancy and the menopause all contributing to the risk factors. Post-menopausal hormone-replacement therapy has also been linked to spider veins, as has the birth control pill – hence the higher prevalence of spider veins and varicose veins amongst women as opposed to men. It is also believed that gastrointestinal problems such as chronic constipation or, in rare cases, tumours, which cause increased pressure in the abdomen, can contribute to the development of varicose and spider veins.
There are three main treatment options which are recommended by NICE as the best options for spider vein removal.
These are: endovenous radiofrequency ablation; a technique sometimes known as Clarivein; and sclerotherapy.
Radio Frequency Ablation
Sometimes known as VNUS Venefit Closure, this procedure involves minimally invasive surgery in which a tiny catheter is inserted into the vein. A heating element then uses radiofrequency energy to heat the collagen inside the venous walls. This causes the vein to collapse and eventually disappear. A local anaesthetic is used, and the procedure is very simple and comfortable. There is no serious downtime, as normal activities can continue. Only heavy exercise is to be avoided, and that is only for a month post-surgery.
This procedure is another modern, minimally invasive and clinically indicated method for eradicating small and medium-sized visible veins. An ultrasound-guided tube is inserted into the vein. This tube has a rotating tip which destroys the inner lining of the vessel. The device then injects a tiny amount of a fluid into the vein, which seeps into the damaged vessel walls and causes the vein to collapse and break down. Normally, practitioners recommend that patients wear a support stocking for two weeks after the procedure, but the actual surgery itself only takes 15 minutes and can be done as an outpatient with a small amount of local anaesthetic.
Sclerotherapy is a painless alternative to surgery which involves either an injection of a chemical into small veins or ultrasound-guided chemical foam into larger varicose veins. The chemical causes irritation to the walls of the vessels, forcing them to stick together and the blood to clot, meaning that eventually the vein turns to scar tissue and disappears.