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Spider Veins Versus Varicose Veins

Unsightly veins of the legs come in two varieties — spider veins and varicose veins. Both can be treated, but one is more worrisome from a health standpoint than the other.

What are spider veins?

Both men and women can develop spider veins — tiny, twisted, red (and sometimes purple or blue) blood vessels that are visible through the top layers of your skin.

Caused by the valves inside the leg veins not working properly, spider veins are unsightly but usually do not cause any health problems. (Spider veins on the face result from tiny blood vessels bursting — often due to sun damage.)

Can spider veins be removed?

The good news is that laser vein treatment—also called laser therapy — is a very safe and effective means of treating spider veins for many people.

Laser therapy uses high-intensity light and heat generated by a laser to eliminate faulty blood vessels, diverting blood flow to nearby healthy veins. It does not involve surgery or injections. During laser treatment, our therapist directs laser light at spider veins to destroy them without damaging your skin.

Laser therapy is less painful than surgery and has a much shorter recovery time. Only a local anesthetic or a light sedative is needed. You will be able to resume normal activities right away.

You will notice a difference immediately following treatment for spider veins, but some redness or purple discoloration is common and will disappear in two to six weeks. Insurance generally does not cover the cost of spider vein treatment since it is considered a cosmetic procedure, but you should check with your insurance company.

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are twisted, enlarged and sometimes bulging veins often visible under or through your skin. They are usually dark blue or purple.

Like spider veins, they are caused by weak or damaged one-way valves, which help return blood from your extremities to your heart to be recirculated in the leg veins. When the valves don’t work properly, blood flows backward and pools in the veins, causing them to twist and stretch.

The valves furthest from your heart — in the legs — are most often affected because gravity makes it harder for blood to flow back to the heart from them. Unlike spider veins, varicose veins can result in a feeling of heaviness, discomfort, burning, aching and even significant pain.

When left untreated, varicose veins can even lead to even more serious problems.

How are varicose veins treated?

Varicose veins usually worsen over time, so the sooner you act and a physician intervenes, the better.

This is true, even if you follow all of the self-care options listed above. In many cases, while unsightly and undesirable, varicose veins don’t debilitate – but they can hinder an active lifestyle and cause embarrassment.

In extreme cases, varicose veins not only hinder activity and cause pain but also can cause ulcers, blood clots and chronic inflammation. In very severe cases, varicose veins can even rupture. A varicose vein specialist will look at your health history and do a physical exam of your legs to determine if you have varicose veins and their severity.

The examination will typically include a venous duplex (or duplex ultrasound) of your legs, which provides the specialist with images of the structures of your veins and an evaluation of the blood flow within them. The treatment for varicose veins will depend on your age, overall health, symptoms and the severity of your varicose veins.

Treatment plans will typically include one or more of the following:

  • Non-invasive treatments
    • Leg elevation
    • Exercising
    • Compression stockings
    • Sclerotherapy
    • Radiofrequency ablation
    • Endovenous laser ablation
  • Invasive outpatient treatments
    • Ambulatory phlebectomy
    • Ligation and vein stripping
    • Endoscopic vein surgery

A vein specialist will determine which combination of non-invasive and invasive treatments is right for you following a physical exam and venous duplex test. Unlike spider vein treatment, varicose vein treatment is generally covered by insurance.

For a referral for spider veins or varicose veins with a physician on Tanner’s medical staff, call 770-812-CARE. For more information about varicose vein diagnosis and treatment at Tanner, visit tanner.org/varicose-vein-treatment.

Tanner Health System, Vascular Care, Tanner Medical Group

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