Patients with varicose veins and spider veins have a range of treatment options available today. Sclerotherapy is a safe, non-surgical procedure used to treat both of these common vein conditions. At South Texas Vein Institute, we focus our practice on minimally-invasive treatments for varicose veins, spider veins, and reticular (blue) veins.
What Is Sclerotherapy?
Sclerotherapy is an effective treatment for both varicose veins and spider veins. Many doctors consider it the treatment of choice for smaller varicose veins.
In this minimally-invasive procedure, a chemical solution is injected directly into the vein. The solution causes the vein to scar and collapse. A clot forms, forcing the blood to reroute through healthier blood vessels in the surrounding tissue.
The treated vein is reabsorbed by the body into local tissue and fades over time. Veins tend to fade within a few weeks after sclerotherapy treatment, although in some cases it may take several more weeks to see full results.
Reasons to Have Sclerotherapy
This treatment is often performed for cosmetic purposes, to improve the appearance of spider veins or varicose veins. It can give patients the freedom to bare their legs again and improve their confidence and self-esteem.
There are also medical reasons to have sclerotherapy for patients who suffer with varicose veins. This treatment can improve related symptoms in the legs, including:
- Night cramps
How Safe Is Sclerotherapy?
Sclerotherapy is a procedure that has been in use in some form for 100 years. It is among the safest and most effective treatments available to treat abnormal veins and may have one of the lowest complication rates of any medical procedure. It is still the gold standard today for treating spider veins and deeper reticular veins.
The medication most vein doctors use to perform sclerotherapy was approved by the FDA in 1946. Millions of people worldwide have had sclerotherapy treatments over a number of decades, most of whom have had no issues with the treatment.
There is always a possibility of an adverse reaction with any medication injected into the bloodstream. However, such reactions are extremely rare. Sclerotherapy is a safe procedure, but like any medical procedure, it should be performed by a doctor with experience.
Benefits of Sclerotherapy
Sclerotherapy is a tried and true treatment for spider veins and smaller varicose veins. In many cases, it is performed as a cosmetic procedure. Patients simply want to get rid of red, blue, or purple, branching spider veins or unsightly raised, twisted, swollen varicose veins to improve their appearance.
This treatment can also alleviate pain, swelling, discomfort, and a range of symptoms associated with varicose veins. For patients with venous insufficiency, sclerotherapy may be beneficial in improving blood flow through the veins.
Sclerotherapy is a simple, nonsurgical procedure that can be performed in our vein clinic without anesthesia, which makes it more affordable. Treatment generally takes less than half an hour and patients can resume normal activities immediately after the procedure. Best of all, most patients are happy with their results after sclerotherapy.
Frequently Asked Questions about Sclerotherapy
Sclerotherapy is a popular nonsurgical treatment for spider veins and varicose veins. According to American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) statistics, 270,233 sclerotherapy procedures were performed in a recent year. Read answers to commonly asked questions about this safe, effective, minimally-invasive treatment.
Is sclerotherapy covered by health insurance?
If treatment is performed for strictly cosmetic reasons, it is generally not covered by health insurance. However, when sclerotherapy is performed to alleviate physical symptoms of varicose veins and spider veins, such as pain, swelling, fatigue, and restless legs, the treatment may be covered by insurance. Check with your health insurance provider to find out if you have coverage for this procedure.
What is the difference between spider veins and varicose veins?
Although causes and treatments are similar, spider veins and varicose veins are separate medical conditions. Spider veins are smaller, more delicate veins that branch out like a spider web and can be red, blue, or purple in color. Varicose veins are larger, raised, twisted, swollen veins that bulge out from the surface of the skin.
In many cases, people with spider veins suffer no symptoms and seek treatment for cosmetic reasons only. Varicose veins, on the other hand, can cause of range of symptoms, such as swelling, aching, itching, throbbing, heaviness, fatigue, restless legs, and night cramps.
There may be complications with varicose veins, including changes in the skin and skin ulcers. Varicose veins are more prone to develop clots, which can create a risk for life-threatening pulmonary embolism if a clot travels to the lungs.
Is sclerotherapy an effective treatment for large varicose veins?
Sclerotherapy can be used safely and effectively to treat spider veins and smaller varicose veins, but it is not generally the most effective treatment for larger varicose veins. A higher volume of a stronger chemical solution is needed to treat larger varicose veins. Patients usually need to wear compression hose for at least 2 weeks after treatment.
What can I expect in a sclerotherapy procedure?
The procedure is performed in our office, and does not usually require any type of anesthesia. You will be asked to arrive wearing loose fitting clothes, preferably shorts. The doctor will identify the veins to be treated and inject them with a chemical using a very fine needle. The chemical will destroy the damaged vein, which will eventually be reabsorbed by the body and fade.
The length of treatment time can vary, depending on the number of veins to be treated. Most treatments sessions take 20 to 30 minutes. Some patients may require more than one session.
Although there is minimal pain with this treatment, tolerances vary from patient to patient. If necessary, a topical anesthetic can be applied to the skin approximately 30 minutes before the procedure.
What chemicals are used in sclerotherapy treatment?
The chemical injected into the vein in sclerotherapy is known as a “sclerosant.” The sclerosants typically used in this procedure are hypertonic saline or tetradecyl sulfate. The chemical irritates the vein, causing it to collapse and eventually disappear.
What can I expect after a sclerotherapy session?
The treated leg will be wrapped in a compressing stocking or bandage. Most patients can remove the compression and resume normal activities after 1 to 2 days.
You may experience some temporary itching or cramping. When the compression bandage or stocking is removed, you may notice some bruising and discoloration, which will fade over the next few weeks.
Avoid jogging, heavy lifting, or any activity that puts pressure on your legs for a few days after treatment. However, your doctor may recommend walking to promote healing and increase circulation.
What should I do to prepare for sclerotherapy?
Shave your legs the night before treatment and do not use any lotion or sunscreen for 24 hours before the procedure. It is best to avoid sun exposure on your legs for approximately one month before and one month after treatment. This will reduce the risk of dark pigmentation at the injection site. Plan to wear shorts during the procedure and a skirt, loose pants, or sweats afterwards to accommodate compression bandages.
Who is a good candidate for sclerotherapy?
Almost anyone with spider veins or small varicose veins may be a good candidate for this procedure. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not have sclerotherapy treatment. Others who may not be good candidates for sclerotherapy include people who are taking anticoagulant medications or corticosteroids and those who have:
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Skin infections
- History of deep vein thrombosis
What does the doctor do in preparation for sclerotherapy?
When you come to South Texas Vein Institute for vein treatment, the first step is a consultation with our knowledgeable surgeon. The doctor will want to know your medical history, including:
- Previous treatments for spider veins or varicose veins and the results of treatment
- Existing medical conditions, recent illnesses, and any past history of blood clots
- Medications or supplements you are taking, particularly aspirin, blood thinners, herbal supplements, and nonstreroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
If you are taking aspirin, blood thinners, or NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), the doctor may instruct you to stop taking the medication for a certain length of time before your sclerotherapy treatment to reduce the risk of bleeding.
The next step is a physical examination. Our surgeon will evaluate the veins involved and check for any underlying disease of the blood vessels. The doctor may want ultrasound imaging of the veins in your legs. This is a painless procedure that uses sound waves to produce images of your veins.