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Spider Veins and Varicose Veins

Spider veins and varicose veins are practically a rite of passage. As we age, many of us find the jagged purple lines or swollen bluish cords spreading across our thighs and calves. These warped blood vessels occur in up to 60% of adults.

Spider veins are small, twisted blood vessels that are visible through the skin. They may be red, purple, or blue and most often appear on the legs or face. They take their name from their striking spiderweb pattern.

Causes

Healthy veins carry blood to the heart through a series of one-way valves. These valves allow blood to flow in the right direction from superficial veins to deeper veins and to the heart. The vessels are surrounded by muscles which contract and help pump blood to the heart. Normally the veins have a one-way valve to prevent backflow. However, defective valves allow blood to flow backward and pool inside the vein. As blood pools within the vein, pressure builds and the vessel wall weakens. As a result, the vein tends to bulge and twist. Depending on the size of the blood vessel and extent of swelling, the result is a spider vein or varicose vein.

Anyone can get spider veins or varicose veins, but women are twice as susceptible as men. The problem is also more common in people with jobs that keep them on their feet, including nurses and teachers. Other factors that may contribute include aging, obesity, pregnancy, prior trauma, or surgery to the leg and a genetic predisposition.

Treatment

Laser therapy and intense light pulse (ILP) destroys tiny spider veins and small varicose veins with heat. The heat causes scar tissue to form, which eventually closes off the vein. For some patients, this is an appealing alternative to injections. Side effects may include minor discomfort in the treated area, skin discoloration, and the formation of blisters. Laser therapy works more slowly but efficient than sclerotherapy. More than one session is usually needed to get results and that the vein disappears completely.

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