Help for Spider Veins

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Small, squiggly and red, blue or purple in color, spider veins bother some women because of how the veins look on their legs and feet. 

But they are not only cosmetic. 

Spider veins can also cause pain and they may be associated with underlying varicose veins, which can cause aching, throbbing and swelling.

They often appear on the legs and face but can develop anywhere on the body.

“There are two main reasons for spider veins: the first is they’re female and their hormones cause it,” said David Locastro, general surgeon at Locastro Vein Center in Skaneateles, Watertown and Fayetteville. “The other reason is you have varicose veins that push open these vessels. If you have spider veins relative to varicose veins, the varicose veins have to be treated first. Varicose veins left untreated can cause issues. They can cause ulcers, phlebitis and blood clots.”

Healthcare providers offer a few different means to get rid of spider veins. Locastro uses sclerotherapy. He uses a tiny needle to inject medication to reduce the color and size of veins and cause them to disappear.

“It causes an inflammation in the vessel,” Locastro said. “It’s enough so it scars the vein so there’s no flow.”

Patients may require two to four treatments over several months to achieve the best results for large areas. Locastro said that the areas may itch a little for a few days and patients should avoid direct sunlight for two weeks, but most patients can go back to normal activities right away.

While some patients can experience staining at the site of the injection, these typically disappear within three to six months. Some also have development of new, small spider veins at or near the site of the previous veins.

Laser treatments offer another option. Krystal Waters, registered nurse and esthetician at The Plastic Surgery Group of Rochester in Rochester, uses this as her primary treatment.

“I use one lens to heat up the area and with the other lens, I trace along the spider vein to get it to coagulate, reabsorb into the body and disappear,” she said.

The procedure can take up to two hours for a client with numerous spider veins. Treating just one small area takes only a few minutes.

If clients continue with behaviors that contribute to spider veins, the veins will likely return.

Intense pulsed light therapy is another form of treatment. The high intensity, nonlaser light heats and damages the walls of the veins until they disappear.

Jennifer Ellis, medical director of UR Medicine Vein Center, encourages patients to maintain a healthy weight, as carrying extra weight increases risk of spider veins. Sedentary lifestyle, smoking, or standing or sitting too much all contribute.

“If you’re very sedentary, take frequent breaks to elevate your legs or get up and walk around,” Ellis said. “That can be effective. Another option is compression stockings. They are knee high socks that help support your legs.”

She recommends a balanced diet low in cholesterol, salt and processed foods to promote circulatory health. Ellis also makes sure that patients don’t have underlying venous issues.

While for some women, spider veins can become painful. She wants more people to seek treatments “instead of waiting until they experience irreversible effects on their legs,” she said.