Varicose and spider veins are very common. The development of either of these types of abnormal blood vessels can erode self-confidence. Patients considering treatment with sclerotherapy often have questions about what this outpatient procedure involves and the expected results.
How Sclerotherapy Works
This therapy is the most common treatment for spider veins. In some cases, it is also effective on small varicose veins relatively near the skin’s surface. Often a doctor orders an ultrasound exam to explore the patient’s veins, particularly if they are leg vessels, before providing treatment.
During the procedure, the physician injects a special substance called a sclerosing agent into each targeted vein. This agent irritates the lining of the wall of the vein, causing it to scar and close. Healthier veins nearby take over the circulation workload of the treated vessel, which eventually disappears.
What Patients Experience
At an initial consultation, a vein doctor performs an exam, takes a medical history, and orders any relevant diagnostic tests. According to the Mayo Clinic, patients should avoid shaving their legs or using any lotion on them for at least 24 hours before their procedures. Most prefer to arrive at the vein clinic in loose, comfortable clothing such as a pair of shorts.
Once each targeted area has been cleansed, the physician injects the sclerosing agent with a fine needle. Some agents contain lidocaine, a local anesthetic.
Clinics administer injections with patients lying on their backs and with their legs at a slight elevation. With larger veins, they sometimes use a foam agent instead of a liquid.
Most patients experience little discomfort during the procedure. Some report a little cramping or stinging with needle insertion.
After each injection, the physician massages the area and uses compression on it to help disperse the solution and to prevent blood from entering the area treated. The number of required injections and sessions varies with the size and the number of targeted veins.
The clinic staff encourages patients to walk soon after injections to help prevent blood clots. Wearing compression stockings is usually required for around two weeks.
It is helpful to have someone to drive patients home. Most individuals return to their regular activities the same day, but must refrain from anything strenuous until cleared by the physician. Discharge orders usually advise avoiding sun exposure, which could result in dark spots on the skin, for two weeks.
The Radiological Society of North America, Inc. indicates that potential temporary side effects include red areas that appear raised and brown spots or lines at injection sites. Bruising disappears after several days to a few weeks.
Spider veins usually disappear between three to six weeks after treatment. Larger vessels might need as long as four months. One session can eliminate between 50 and 80 percent of veins injected.