Sclerotherapy is a cosmetic technique employed to reduce the appearance of spider veins. Spider veins are clusters of thin red, blue, or purple colored veins resembling spider legs that appear on the thighs, calves, ankles, and sometimes the face. It is estimated that approximately half of all adult women are affected by spider veins. Not only are spider veins aesthetically displeasing, they can also cause physical discomfort including pain, swelling, burning, and night cramps. For patients who suffer from spider veins, sclerotherapy can be an excellent way to diminish them.
How do spider veins occur?
Spider veins, medically termed sunburst varicosities, can vary in size and skin depth. They develop because of various reasons, including:
- hormone changes
- long periods of sitting or standing
- certain medications
Most spider veins can be successfully treated with sclerotherapy, though larger troublesome veins may not be treated with the method.
Who can perform sclerotherapy?
Good candidates for a sclerotherapy procedure are adult women who are not currently breastfeeding or pregnant. Men may also benefit from the treatment, though they do not tend to develop spider veins with the same frequency as women. However patients with certain medical conditions are not advised to perform the procedure. Such conditions include:
- heart conditions
- circulation problems
Any patient considering the treatment should discuss the procedure with a qualified cosmetic surgeon to learn what to expect during the procedure and the recovery period and to learn of the risks and benefits of sclerotherapy.
How is the procedure performed?
Sclerotherapy involves the injection of a sclerosing agent into the spider veins of the lower extremities. In the presence of this solution, the veins collapse and fade from view. During the procedure planning, the surgeon will map out the vein condition using a hand-held ultra sound machine. This instrument allows the cosmetic surgeon to detect any backflow in the venous system. The procedure itself takes anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes during which time between 5 and 40 injections are administered to the affected areas. During treatment a patient can be fully awake due to the low level of discomfort associated with this technique.
Once the procedure completed, the patient's legs will be wrapped in compression garments to facilitate proper healing and maximize effectiveness of the procedure. Patients are encouraged to walk around following sclerotherapy and should expect some leg cramping in the first few days. Spider veins may look worse temporarily after treatment before they get better. After one month, a patient may benefit from another treatment session. After a few treatments the desired results are often achieved. Sclerotherapy is a safe, effective, non-invasive procedure that can greatly diminish the appearance of spider veins.
How expensive is sclerotherapy?
The costs of the treatment vary depending on several factors, like:
- the amount of time a doctor spends treating the veins
- whether a doctor or a technician conducted the treatment
- the amount of treatment needed
- the extent of the vein problems
Discussing various cost factors is a must for patients who are looking into this treatment, since the overall cost can rise very quickly under certain circumstances. In many cases, insurance will cover the costs, if it is being conducted for medical reasons, such as to reduce pain.
For people who suffer from spider veins, enjoying sclerotherapy results can mean more confidence and added freedom such as going to the pool without being self-conscious. The purpose of the treatment is the elimination or diminishment of the appearance of spider veins.
Patients should be aware that this treatment is not designed to prevent spider veins from forming in the future; sclerotherapy results apply solely to existing visible veins. Injections of sclerosing agent will cause varicose and spider veins to close off and be reabsorbed by the body.
To achieve the optimal results, the patient and physician should work together to identify problem areas and determine the plan for treatment. In most cases, full results will only be achieved through a series of treatments spaced about a month apart, with the veins appearing lighter after each procedure.
As with any type of medical procedure there are risks and benefits associated with sclerotherapy. Risk factors are increased for patients who:
- are pregnant or nursing
- have a history of blood borne conditions
- suffer from AIDS or hepatitis
- have circulation problems, heart conditions, or diabetes
There are also sclerotherapy risk factors associated with the procedure itself, though they are very rare. Patients can experience some degree of cramping or minor discomfort following the surgery. The rare, but more serious sclerotherapy risk factors include:
- blood clots
- allergic reaction to the injected fluid
- pigmentation irregularities
- the development of finer red vein
- minor skin injury that can lead to scarring
Patients who are considering the treatment should discuss complications thoroughly with their cosmetic surgeons prior to scheduling the procedure, and may wish to investigate complications on their own.