- A non-surgical method for treating varicose veins
- Surgical methods for treating varicose veins
- Preventative measures to help avoid visible veins
- See a doctor if you have varicose veins
When it comes to treating visible veins in the legs (i.e. varicose veins), there are multiple solutions to get rid of the red and blue lines that are bothering you. Many are surgical, but at least one is non-surgical.
The important thing, however, is to see a doctor who can diagnose your root cause of visible leg veins – whether they are spider veins, reticular veins or varicose veins. While some of the superficial, visible veins can be harmless, they might be indicative of a more serious problem lurking beneath the skin.
In this article we will cover the various ways that visible leg veins can be treated effectively. Whether or not you need one or the other treatment will depend on the advice of a doctor.
A non-surgical method for treating varicose veins:
Non-surgical vein removal can completely get rid of visible veins. This minimally-invasive procedure requires very little downtime. It also assumes fewer potential side effects than would be the case with surgical methods.
It is called sclerotherapy, and it is guided by ultrasound and infrared vein mapping.
Ultrasound-guided sclerotherapy injections with infrared vein mapping
This safe procedure involves injecting a liquid or foam medication into your superficial veins (not your deep veins), where the pooling is taking place. This type of formulation is called a “sclerosing agent.” It creates an intentional scar on the vein walls, so that they dissolve, permanently.
Eventually, your body removes these dissolved tissues through the liver. This way, your blood must find another vein to flow through – one that is not varicose.
Many surface-level, varicose veins can be treated with simple, ‘naked-eye’ injections, by a qualified doctor.
However, infrared technology and a duplex ultrasound device can help doctors find less visible varicose veins under the skin. This makes the sclerotherapy procedure more accurate.
Using these technologies, practitioners can map the entire anatomy of your venous system. They show precisely where you are forming varicosity, which is hard to see when they are deeper in your legs. From there, sclerotherapy injections can be better targeted, for lower chances of recurrence.
A duplex ultrasound examination can also reveal more serious vein issues, like deep vein thrombosis, if they exist. A doctor may follow up with you for other treatments, if this is your case.
Sclerotherapy can also be used on saphenous veins in the groin area, or the hands, arms and neck.
The term, “micro-sclerotherapy” refers to the same procedure, but uses a much thinner needle to target smaller spider veins.
Sclerotherapy points to keep in mind:
- The procedure is effective about 80% of the time, depending on your body’s own reaction to the treatment.
- After the procedure, you’ll be able to go home and return to normal activities right away.
- Wear compression stockings as directed, after the procedure.
- Avoid the sun for a few weeks after the procedure.
- To heal well, ensure you make time for a light exercise routine, at least 10 minutes per day (e.g. go for a short walk). Don’t participate in heavy exercise, but do get up and move around multiple times a day.
- Avoid alcohol and blood-thinning medications, like Aspirin, before and after the procedure.
- If you have remaining visible veins, or need a ‘touch up’ treatment, you’ll need to wait at least 3 weeks before your next session. Ongoing injections will likely be needed, depending on how easily you form varicose veins.
What are the risks of sclerotherapy?
With sclerotherapy injections, there can always be the risk of:
- Allergic reactions to the sclerosing agent (sodium tetradecyl sulfate, saline or polidocanol), or even the bandages used after the treatment.
- Bruising and tenderness, which heals in due time.
- A bump in the skin, which may need to be manually drained, if it does not heal on its own (usually within a month).
Pregnant women, or those with known blood clots or allergies to sclerosing medication should not undergo this treatment.
Severe side effects of sclerotherapy are very rare. Your doctor should let you know of all the possible side effects before treating you for varicose veins with this method.
With all visible vein treatments, there will be the chance of recurrence. This has to do with being genetically disposed to forming varicosity and telangiectasias. While the targeted veins that were previously treated are certainly not causing varicose veins anymore, your body may form new ones.
If your varicose veins return, your visible problem may also be rooted somewhere deeper in your legs.
Vein treatments have an 80 – 93% chance of being effective. Doctors can not guarantee your body will respond to treatments, nor how many treatments you may need, to solve your issue completely.
Surgical methods for treating varicose veins:
Surgical options are typically reserved for varicose veins, and rarely for smaller, superficial spider veins (unless they are part of a larger issue that starts with varicose veins).
Surgical options for treating varicose veins are usually done in cases where the veins are quite large, dangerous or painful. Afterwards, maintenance, or ‘touch ups’ with sclerotherapy and lasers may be needed, to target the ‘off-shoot’ visible veins, which are often left behind.
The surgical options for visible veins in the legs include:
Vein-stripping surgery with ligation
This is the manual removal of the greater saphenous vein (GSV), located in your legs, which is thought to be the main cause of varicosity. After removing damaged parts of veins, the leftover openings are closed shut with a ligation procedure. Note that your leg can remain numb after this procedure.
Microphlebectomy (a.k.a. ambulatory phlebectomy, stab avulsion)
This is the removal of large problem veins by several small incisions (2 to 3 millimetres wide), every 5 to 10 centimetres apart along the vein line. Though the incisions are small, and heal easily, this is still considered a surgical procedure (though it is an out-patient one). Local anaesthetic is used.
Transilluminated powered phlebectomy (TIPP)
This is a newer way to do the above procedure, using different medical instruments.
Radiofrequency or laser endovenous ablation therapy (EVLT)
This involves inserting a probe into the vein, and sending heat-causing energy to the affected area (with radio frequency or laser light). The result is that the varicose vein is destroyed, and blood is rerouted to healthy veins.
Preventative measures to help avoid visible veins
As we all know, the best medicine is prevention. Ways to prevent visible veins in the first place include:
- Walking and exercising more often.
- Keeping your legs raised as much as possible, about 6 to 12 inches above your heart, for at least 15 to 30 minutes per day.
- Not wearing tight clothing when sitting too long, such as on an airplane ride, at a work desk, or when watching TV.
- Getting a leg massage after sitting or standing for long periods, to help ‘perk up’ your blood flow again.
- Wearing medical-grade compression stockings. These can be fitted at a clinic that does varicose vein treatments, or with a doctor. They come in different styles and are also great for those who need to sit or stand for a long time.
If you have venous insufficiency or blood circulation problems, you may need medication to help manage it. We encourage you to speak to your doctor about this option.
See a doctor if you have varicose veins
To conclude, we’ll end by saying that it’s important to see a doctor if you notice significant visible veins forming on your legs. They can indicate a potential to cause pulmonary embolism in your lungs. In this case, they would not be varicose veins. They would be called “deep vein thrombosis (DVT).” DVT is not always visible, however, since the venous pooling happens beneath the skin layer.
That said, if you do have this problem, thankfully science has given us solutions to help treat them. Even if your issue is merely an aesthetic one, there are ways to improve the look of your legs, by getting rid of varicose veins.