Ask the doctor: Summer is coming – how do I get rid of spider veins on my legs?

Question: I turned 50 this year and have noticed a lot of spider veins on my legs. While not painful, I’m starting to feel insecure, especially as the good weather means I have to carry my legs more. I’m fit and healthy and not sure why they’re suddenly so noticeable. Is it age related or maybe hereditary like my mom had it too. I recently heard about a procedure called “sclerotherapy” that removes them. Is this available through my GP or is it considered cosmetic? If so, what kind of benefit would I expect from the treatment?

dr Grant replies: Yes, you are right in assuming that spider veins tend to appear with age. About three out of ten adults are affected by venous disease, with women twice as likely as men. The problem is also more common among people with jobs that keep them on their feet for long periods of time.

Other contributing factors include family history, aging, obesity, pregnancy, previous trauma, or surgery on the leg. Spider veins get their name from their spider web pattern that can be seen if you look closely. They are small, twisted, red, purple, or blue blood vessels that are visible through the skin and appear on the legs or even the face.

Varicose veins are larger blood vessels that are clogged, swollen, bulging, and/or twisted. They are usually dark blue and protrude from the skin like raised tunnels. Varicose veins develop when the small valves in the veins stop working properly. In a healthy vein, blood flows smoothly to the heart.

Blood is prevented from flowing backwards by a series of tiny valves that open and close to let blood through. When the valves are weakened or damaged, blood can back up and pool in the vein, eventually leading to varicose veins (swollen and enlarged).

Sclerotherapy obliterates about 80 percent of the veins treated. A vascular surgeon or specialist (not your GP) will inject a solution directly into the abnormal vein. The blood vessel is destroyed, becomes fibrotic, and eventually disappears. Before treatment, a thorough examination of your venous system in your legs is performed (usually with a duplex ultrasound machine) to avoid side effects such as discoloration or the formation of new, superficial, tiny blood vessels.

After sclerotherapy, spider veins generally disappear within three to six weeks, while varicose veins may take three to four months to respond. Treated veins will not reappear, but you will likely continue to develop new spider veins at the same rate as before.

Some people opt for a less invasive treatment (but results are slower) in the form of laser therapy and an intense pulse of light (ILP) that uses heat to destroy tiny spider veins and small varicose veins. The heat causes scar tissue to form, which eventually closes the vein. Side effects can include mild discomfort in the treated area, skin discoloration, and blistering.

It usually takes more than one session to get results and it can take a year or two for the vein to go away completely.

dr Jennifer Grant is a GP at Beacon HealthCheck Ask the doctor: Summer is coming – how do I get rid of spider veins on my legs?

Fry Electronics Team

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