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What’s the Difference Between Varicose Veins and Spider Veins?

Although patients often use the terms spider veins and varicose veins interchangeably, these are two separate issues that affect the health of your venous system differently. Spider veins and varicose veins are similar in that they are both unsightly AND easily treatable.

Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are enlarged, twisted, dilated veins that protrude above the level of the skin. Most frequently found on the legs, they often appear dark purple or blue in color and sometimes bulge out. They are typically caused by an underlying issue in the venous system, such as venous reflux (also known as venous insufficiency, which is a result of broken valves inside the veins, causing the blood to flow “backwards” in the veins. Varicose veins can lead to symptoms such as a heavy feeling in your legs, skin discoloration, swelling, and worsened pain after sitting or standing for prolonged periods of time.

There are a number of factors that can raise your risk of developing varicose veins.

  • Aging causes wear and tear on the valves in your veins.
  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause may also play a role in varicose veins.
  • Heredity is also a factor, so if members of your family have developed varicose veins, it is likely that you will as well.
  • Standing or sitting for long periods of time can also increase your risk of developing varicose veins.

Unfortunately, there is no way to completely prevent the development of varicose veins. You may reduce your risk of this condition by improving your circulation. Exercising on a regular basis, maintaining a healthy weight, and adhering to a quality diet can definitely help. It is also important to change your sitting or standing position frequently. Once you develop vein disease, it will not get better on its own – you may be able to manage the symptoms through the wearing of medical-grade compression hose and elevation, but the diseased veins themselves will never improve and symptoms will most likely increase over time.

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Spider Veins

Spider veins are small, damaged veins typically measuring less than 1mm in diameter, and often appearing in “clusters.”  They most frequently appear on the surface of the legs or even the face. Although they usually are not painful or harmful, they can be symptomatic or an indicator of deeper venous issues if they continue to recur after treatment or appear in clusters around the ankles. Typically more of a visual nuisance than a medical one, they may cause an achy or “burning” feeling in the affected leg(s).

The factors that can affect the development of varicose veins are similar to those for spider veins:

  • Heredity is a major factor, so if members of your family have developed spider veins, it is likely that you will as well.
  • Obesity.
  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause may also play a role in spider veins.
  • Standing or sitting for long periods of time can also increase your risk of developing spider veins.

Spider Vein Treatment

Sclerotherapy

Sclerotherapy is the gold-standard in spider vein treatment, which involves the injection of an FDA-approved solution directly into the vein via a tiny needle. The injected solution irritates the lining of the vein, causing it to collapse and then to disappear over time. Most patients require a series of 3-5 treatments over the course of several months, although the number of required treatments varies with each patient.

Veinwave Laser Treatment

Used primarily to remove tiny spider veins on the face and nose that are too small for sclerotherapy, Veinwave treatment uses an ultra-thin needle that emits radio frequency energy into the vein in order to damage the vein. Essentially, the targeted cells are heated with the current which then causes them to die. These damaged cells will be absorbed by the body and flushed away by the body’s own metabolic processes. Results are almost immediate, with continued improvement over the next few days and weeks.

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Varicose Vein Treatment

Following an initial consultation and duplex ultrasound, varicose veins are treated in-office with one or a combination of the following treatments, which are often covered by insurance if the patient is symptomatic and the ultrasound shows signs of venous reflux (backwards flow of blood).

EndoVenous Laser Treatment (EVLT)

The Endovenous Laser Treatment (or Ablation) procedure is performed in Dr. Cutchen’s office under local anesthesia. This procedure closes the abnormal saphenous veins. With ultrasound guidance, a thin laser fiber is inserted into the vein through a tiny incision in the calf and advanced to the top of the vein. After placement of local anesthetic around the vein, the laser is activated, which delivers heat to the vein wall, causing it to heat, collapse and seal shut. The vein will then disappear over 6-12 months. Patients are able and required to walk immediately after the procedure, and most patients return to work the next day. Following treatment, patients wear prescription-strength compression stockings for three weeks.

In some cases, other treatments, including ambulatory phlebectomy and endovenous chemical ablation, are used in combination with endovenous laser ablation to achieve the best possible results.

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Endovenous Chemical Ablation

Also known as ultrasound-guided sclerotherapy, endovenous chemical ablation targets and eliminates varicose veins that are hidden from the naked eye and only seen by ultrasound. Here, a chemical irritant, called a sclerosant, is injected into the vein while the doctor observes the injection process on the ultrasound screen. The sclerosant damages the lining of the vein wall collapses the vein and eventually leads to the body reabsorbing the destroyed vein. The sclerosant can come in a liquid or foam form.

Ambulatory Phlebectomy

Ambulatory Phlebectomy, Micro-phlebectomy, or “hook” phlebectomy is a micro-extraction procedure used to remove visible bulging varicose veins, both large and small, that are close to the surface through very small (1/16 – 1/8 inch) micro-incisions. The micro-incisions are so small that they seldom require a stitch, and they are rarely visible once healed. Once removed, patients are amazed how good the leg looks with the “ropey” veins gone.

I recently had varicose vein removal, and highly recommend Dr. Cutchen and staff. The process was well explained, professional and pretty painless. I will return for minor spider vein work soon. My legs look and feel MUCH better!

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Take The Next Step

If you are unsure about whether you have varicose veins or spider veins, schedule a consultation with our experienced staff who can help you find the best treatment for your specific symptoms! Pursue better vein health by scheduling an appointment with the trusted medical staff at Albuquerque Vein & Laser Institute at 505-848-VEIN. You can also fill out the form on this page and one of our staff members will reach out to you promptly. Albuquerque Vein & Laser Institute is located in the Journal Center area of Albuquerque and proudly serves vein patients throughout the entire Albuquerque area, as well as Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Santa Rosa, Los Lunas and other areas throughout New Mexico.

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