I’m interested in getting rid of the spider veins on my legs before summer. What can you do to help me? How long does treatment take?

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About half of all Americans over the age of 50 suffer from varicose veins that make walking and standing difficult. Although more common as you age, varicose veins and spider veins are seen in 20% of American adults.

Spider veins and varicose veins are more common in women, especially after weight gain, including pregnancy. Veins are responsible for carrying blood to the heart and lungs. Veins have a type of “valve” that function only one way. This prevents the flow of blood back into the veins. If this one-way valve is weakened, the blood flows back into the veins causing the veins to get congested. They become enlarged which results in the formation of varicose veins or spider veins.

Spider veins are similar to varicose veins, but they are smaller. They are often red or blue and are closer to the surface of the skin than varicose veins. They can look like tree branches or spider webs with their short jagged lines and can cover a very small area or very large areas. Spider veins are usually easier to treat than varicose veins using sclerotherapy or laser vein treatment.

Sclerotherapy is a procedure where an injection is used to treat spider veins. The sclerotherapy procedure uses an extremely tiny needle to inject the vein with a solution that shrinks the vein. As the vein shrinks, blood is channeled to deeper veins, lessening the appearance of the spider vein on the skin of the surface. The vast majority of patients who have sclerotherapy will experience significant improvement in the appearance of their veins.

Surface laser therapy is another treatment option for spider veins that delivers pulses of light energy. This surface laser therapy causes the blood within the vein to coagulate, eventually destroying the spider vein, which is later reabsorbed by the body. Blood flow is then redirected to veins deeper below the skin’s surface.

Predicting the number of sclerotherapy or surface laser treatments needed to clear or improve your spider veins is difficult. Each vein may need to be injected one to five times, or more, over a period of weeks or months.

The total number of spider vein treatment sessions needed depends on the amount and severity of the veins. Average treatment is three to five sessions, however, severe cases may require as many as 10 or more.

“Sclerotherapy and laser therapy do not prevent development of new spider veins over the years,” said Dr. Brian Strife. “Standing occupations, pregnancy and high estrogen states may increase the likelihood that spider veins will appear. Many people will require additional treatments from time to time to keep their legs clear.”

Improvement is usually seen over a period of weeks or months. Smaller veins can disappear after the first treatment session. Multiple areas can be treated during each session, reducing the total number of sessions required.