Robert F. Hanna, MD, is an Interventional Radiologist at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa, AZ. For more information on this topic, talk to your doctor or call Dr. Hanna's office at (480) 412-6327.
Question: The veins in my legs make me unhappy, and I cover them up. What causes varicose and spider veins? Are they treatable?
Answer: Varicose and spider veins often occur when the valves in the leg veins do not function properly. Because veins return blood from the feet back to the heart against gravity, they contain valves within them to help blood from falling backward toward the feet. When the valves stop working, the blood then backs up, collects in the legs and feet, and the veins containing that blood start to enlarge.
Many people have traits in their genes which predispose them to develop varicose and spider veins. Genetics is the most common reason people develop these abnormal veins in their legs. However, pregnancy, previous blood clots of the legs, obesity, and standing for long periods of time also are causes of abnormal veins. Many people ask if crossing one’s legs can be a contributing factor, but this is unlikely. Both men and women experience this common problem of abnormal veins/varicose veins.
People choose to treat veins in their legs for a variety of reasons which range from pain and swelling to cosmetics. Depending on the individual case, veins may be treated through one of two means. One of these methods is sclerotherapy, which is an effective method that involves injection of a solution into the problematic veins using very fine needles. This solution causes the veins to scar down and eventually collapse with time. In other cases, doctors may choose to use lasers or other heat therapy to destroy the defective veins. These treatments are particularly effective for rope-like, painful varicose veins and result in resolution of the pain associated with them.
Before the procedure, ultrasound is used to help determine if the veins are malfunctioning (reflux/venous insufficiency. If someone is deemed to be a candidate, the procedure is scheduled for 1-2 weeks later. It lasts about 1 hour and is outpatient so that the patients do not have to stay in the hospital overnight. After the procedure, pressure stockings are recommended for 1-2 weeks following treatment. The pressure from the stockings helps the diseased veins to shrink and collapse, giving the best possible result (for this reason, winter is a great time to seek treatment as the stockings can be difficult to tolerate in the heat of summer). Pain is minimal and most patients return to work the same day or the next day.