More than 80 million people in the United States have problems with their veins, the vessels that return blood to the heart once it has circulated through the body (as opposed to arteries, which carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the body). Many people suffering from venous disorders come to vascular surgeons looking for treatment to either relieve pain or improve the visible appearance of diseased veins.
Veins have one-way valves that help keep blood flowing in the proper direction. If these valves stop functioning the way they are supposed to, blood can flow backwards and pool in the vein, causing it to stretch. These enlarged blood vessels are classified into two groups: spider veins and varicose veins. Spider veins are visible on the surface of the skin as red, blue or purple lines; varicose veins are larger and deeper and often manifest as bluish bumps beneath the skin.
Varicose veins are swollen, dark blue or purple blood vessels that are visible and tangible beneath the skin. They often look like twisted cords, and usually appear on the calves, inside of the legs, and ankles, or as hemorrhoids during pregnancy.
Varicose veins form when the valves within a vein weaken and allow some blood to flow backward. The vessel walls weaken under the additional strain and balloon outward, raising the skin surface.
Most people with varicose veins seek cosmetic treatment to reduce their appearance on the legs. Treatment often takes care of minor discomfort associated with the condition, such as swelling, fatigue, itching and cramps. Sometimes, however, more significant problems can develop if veins are left untreated. Venous insufficiency occurs when blood becomes so clogged that it cannot return to the heart. This, in turn, can cause a clot to form that may block blood flow or break free and travel to the heart or lungs and cause severe damage. Bleeding infection and skin ulcers are also possible complications. For this reason, patients with varicose veins should be examined by a professional.
Spider veins, or telangiectasias, are small, thin, blood vessels visible beneath the skin. They appear most commonly on the face and legs and may look like a series of lines, tree branches, or a spider- or web-like shape with a dark center. It is estimated that they affect nearly half of adult women in the U.S.
Spider veins are caused by a variety of factors, including heredity, pregnancy (and other conditions that involve changes in hormone levels), weight gain, long periods of standing, and certain medications. They often appear red or blue, and because they form on the face, thighs, calves and ankles, many patients are bothered by the way they look. Others seek medical treatment for uncomfortable symptoms such as aching, burning, swelling and cramping. The standard treatments for spider veins are sclerotherapy and laser or pulsed light treatments.