Frequently Asked Questions

What are varicose and spider veins?
What generally happens to varicose veins?
What causes varicose veins and spider veins?
Who usually has varicose veins and spider veins?
Why do varicose veins and spider veins usually appear in the legs?
What are symptoms of varicose veins?
How can varicose veins be diagnosed?
What problems can occur if left untreated?
Is Varicose Vein Surgery covered by insurance?

What are varicose and spider veins?

Varicose veins are enlarged veins that can be flesh colored, dark purple or blue. They often look like cords and appear twisted and bulging. They are swollen and raised above the surface of the skin. Varicose veins are commonly found on the backs of the calves or on the inside of the leg.

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. Spider veins can be found on the legs and face. They can cover either a very small or very large area of skin.

What generally happens to varicose veins?

In the majority of cases, the varicose veins worsen with time. The varicose veins start to become more prominent and swell. With time, the veins are engorged with blood and can cause localized pain and itching. Once the veins become prominent, it is very unlikely that they will spontaneously resolve without any treatment. If left untreated, they may lead to skin break down or bleeding.

What causes varicose veins and spider veins?

The heart pumps blood filled with oxygen and nutrients to the whole body. Arteries carry blood from the heart towards the body parts. Veins carry oxygen-poor blood from the body back to the heart.

The squeezing of leg muscles pumps blood back to the heart from the lower body. Veins have valves that act as one-way flaps. These valves prevent the blood from flowing backwards as it moves up the legs. If the one-way valves become weak, blood can leak back into the vein and collect there. This problem is called venous insufficiency. Pooled blood enlarges the vein and it becomes varicose. Spider veins can also be caused by the backup of blood. Hormone changes, inherited factors, and exposure to the sun can also cause spider veins.

Who usually has varicose veins and spider veins?

Many factors increase a person's chances of developing varicose or spider veins. These include:

  • Increasing Age
  • Having family members with vein problems or being born with weak vein valves
  • Hormonal changes. These occur during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. Taking birth control pills and other medicines containing estrogen and progesterone also increase the risk of varicose or spider veins
  • Pregnancy. During pregnancy there is a huge increase in the amount of blood in the body. This can cause veins to enlarge. The expanding uterus also puts pressure on the veins. Varicose veins usually improve within 3 months after delivery. A growing number of abnormal veins usually appear with each additional pregnancy
  • Obesity, leg injury, prolonged standing and other things that weaken vein valves
  • Sun exposure, which can cause spider veins on the cheeks or nose of a fair-skinned person

Why do varicose veins and spider veins usually appear in the legs?

The force of gravity, the pressure of body weight, and the task of carrying blood from the bottom of the body up to the heart make legs the primary location for varicose and spider veins. Compared with other veins in the body, leg veins have the toughest job of carrying blood back to the heart. They endure the most pressure. This pressure can be stronger than the veins' one-way valves.

What are symptoms of varicose veins?

Aside from being unattractive, varicose veins may be responsible for leg aches, a feeling of heaviness or fatigue of the legs. The majority of individuals will complain of leg ache at the end of the day. Symptoms are often worse after prolonged standing and may include feelings of fatigue, heaviness, aching, burning, throbbing, itching, cramping, and restlessness of the legs. Leg cramps usually present at night, and may develop in the effected leg.

With time, darkening or hyperpigmentation around the ankles is a classic feature of prolonged varicose veins. Hemorrhoids are analogous to varicose veins and involve engorgement of veins in the rectum. Varicose veins do not cause joint pains or a decrease in blood supply to the legs.

How can varicose veins be diagnosed?

Varicose veins can usually be diagnosed by a simple physical examination. However, the cause of the varicose vein requires the use of Doppler ultrasound. This painless test assesses the valve function in the groin and can also determine how much blood is flowing back into the legs. The test can also determine the presence of blood clots in the veins.

What problems can occur if left untreated?

Most people with varicose veins do not develop complications. It is impossible to predict who will develop complications. The size of the varicose vein is not related to complications but the duration of the varicose vein is. Complications that may occur include:

  • Superficial thrombophlebitis – in this condition, the varicose vein is inflamed and tender. A clot is usually present in the vein.
  • Bleeding – even with minor trauma, the varicose vein may be associated with bleeding. Because the vein is under high pressure, the bleeding can be quite profuse.
  • Venous Eczema – the skin round the vein may become dry and very itchy.
  • Venous Pigmentation - this is brown staining of the skin around the ankle. It is due to the leakage of small amount of blood from the veins into the skin.
  • Venous Ulceration - ulcers at the ankle.

Is Varicose Vein Surgery covered by insurance?

It depends. If one has symptoms of leg swelling, pain, ulcers or clots, then most medical insurances cover the cost of surgery. However, if the surgery is done purely for cosmetic reasons, then the cost of the procedure is not covered.