If you notice a series of faint blue lines twisting around your thighs or calves? Of course, the first thing you may do is go to Dr. Google to find out how to get rid of spider veins. Some of the recommended home remedies include ginger tea, massage, and even exercise. Here’s the honest truth: That’s all BS. Visible veins aren’t something you can fix at home.
At We’re So Vain in New London, treating spider veins and varicose veins (the larger, raised veins in the leg) is a very common procedure for Dr. Gregory Azia, a Board Certified General and Vascular Surgeon. These visible veins that typically appear on the legs are hereditary (thanks, Mom), but they can also be a sign of a much deeper vein problem that no home remedy is likely to fix. Here are the facts about visible veins and how to get rid of them.
There are two types of visible veins—spider veins and varicose veins.
Spider veins are the most common type of visible vein. “Spider veins are really small superficial veins that are in the outer layer of skin between the dermis and epidermis, so you can see them. If you live long enough, most people are going to get them. Bummer. These veins get their name because they look like thin, weblike blue and purple lines on the legs.
Varicose veins are larger veins that are deeper in the body. You won’t see them as a discoloration, you’ll see them when they get so stretched out that they kind of bulge. Varicose and spider veins are connected. Patients who have varicose veins almost always have spider veins, too. However, some people get spider veins and never have a problem with varicose veins.
To understand why these visible veins happen, you’ve got to understand how blood flows through the body.
Get ready for a quick anatomy lesson. Your heart pumps blood to your entire body through your blood vessels. Blood circulates outward towards the extremities (legs, arms, head) through the arteries and back inward to the heart through your veins.
Think of veins as being a hose that flows from the bottom up toward your heart. And there’s a little valve. When they work well, the blood shoots up and the valve closes. When it doesn’t work, the blood falls back down instead of moving north.” When blood flows in the wrong direction because of a valve incompetence, it can get backed up in the veins of the legs. This causes spider veins and varicose veins. “About 60 percent of people with spider veins will have an underlying venous insufficiency behind it, and about 99 percent of varicose veins are due to venous insufficiency,” says Dr.Gregoy Azia. (Doctors don’t know what causes the 40 percent of spider veins not due to insufficiency, but there’s likely a hereditary link.)
The underlying causes of vein issues are varied—some are preventable or reversible, while others aren’t.
Chronic venous insufficiency can be hereditary, which you have no control over. It can also be caused by things that put pressure on the veins like spending a lot of time on your feet, having a desk job where you sit all day, obesity, or pregnancy.
If you have a job where you are standing still for long periods of time, gravity is at work pulling the blood back down toward the legs, causing the veins to get stretched out and the valves to weaken over time. If you sit all day at your job, you can also start to see visible veins because there is a lack of muscle movement. The muscles in the leg help the veins push the blood back up toward the heart. Note: That rumor that crossing your legs can cause spider veins isn’t true, so go ahead and cross ’em if you like—just make sure that you get out of your chair and move around during the day to get the blood pumping.
Extra weight can also put pressure on the veins. With obesity, there is fat inside your abdominal cavity between your organs called visceral fat says, Dr. Azia. “When your visceral fat increases, it increases the pressure inside your abdomen. As the blood is trying to get back from your legs through your abdomen, it reaches an obstruction that isn’t supposed to be there. That increased pressure dilates the veins, which extends all the way through the lower vein bridge and all the way up to the veins in your skin.”
Left untreated, visible veins can become painful.
Spider and varicose veins make your legs sore because it’s an inflammatory process. Those veins are getting dilated and stretched out. They’re trying to signal for help in the only way they know how, which is sending off a local inflammatory biochemical that causes your legs to swell and to be sore.”
Treating visible veins isn’t something you can DIY—you’ll need to see a specialist.
Dr. Azia says that home remedies won’t work. Dry brushing? Nope. Massage? It might feel good, but there won’t be a visible difference. Exercise? Not really. “There’s nothing really that you can do aside from the small minimally invasive treatments we have that is going to make spider veins look any better,” he says. “Creams, ointments, or rubbing aren’t going to make spider veins go away.”
The primary way that spider and varicose veins are treated is by closing off the vein so that it collapses, and the residual scar tissue stops the blood flow completely. Don’t worry, these are all superficial veins, so other healthy veins just take over the circulation.
Sclerotherapy is one of the more popular options for spider veins and varicose veins. At We’re So Vain, Dr.Azia injects a foamy detergent or concentrated saltwater solution into the problematic vein, which irritates the walls of the blood vessel. This causes scar tissue to form, which leads the blood vessel to close. If someone is allergic to the sclerotherapy solution, there are other treatment options.
Radiofrequency ablation is another option for varicose veins. RFA runs radiofrequency through the inside of the vein and turns the inside of the vein into a lightbulb filament, heats it up, scars it, and kills it,” says Dr. Azia.
The key is to go to a doctor who specializes in vein treatments and who is a Board Certified Vascular Surgeon, like Dr. Azia. A phlebotomist, such as those employed at Vein Clinics of America or Vein Centers is not necessarily a board-certified surgeon or vein surgeon. Dr. Azia has over 20 years experience in spider vein and varicose vein removal. The good news is that insurance will cover many vein treatments. “Oftentimes when it is a deeper vein problem insurance covers it because it’s not a cosmetic issue,” says Dr. Azia.