Sclerotherapy is a minimally invasive procedure for treating varicose veins and spider veins. Varicose veins are known to cause itching, pain, cramping as well as discoloration. Spider veins are smaller and compared to varicose veins, they are less severe.
In addition to diminishing the appearance of varicose or spider veins, the procedure also helps to reduce pain or side effects that are caused by damaged veins. Although anyone can get varicose veins, they are more common in men than women.
After sclerotherapy is performed, the treated veins usually fade within a few weeks. Although, occasionally, seeing full results might require a month or two.
Sclerotherapy can be done for cosmetic procedures to improve the appearance of the varicose and spider veins. It can also be done to improve symptoms related to these conditions. These symptoms can include aching, swelling, burning, night cramps, etc.
It is important to note that if done for cosmetic reasons, then the cost may not be covered by your insurance.
Before the procedure, your doctor will perform a physical exam as well as ask you about your medical history. The physical exam will involve evaluating the involved veins or checking for any underlying blood vessel disease.
You might also need to stop taking medications, such as aspirin or blood thinners, as they can increase the chances of bleeding.
Depending on which of your veins are involved, your doctor might be requesting ultrasound imaging on the veins in your legs. Ultrasound is a painless procedure which can produce images of structures inside your body with the use of sound waves.
On the day before the procedure, do not shave and avoid applying any lotion to your legs. You need to avoid shaving and applying lotion even after the procedure until the injection site is healed. Remember to wear loose and comfortable clothing. It is better if you wear a pair of shorts so that your legs are exposed.
Generally, sclerotherapy is performed in a doctor’s office and it doesn’t require the use of anesthesia. It requires less than an hour to complete.
Depending on how severe your condition is, the treatment should take anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour. If you are getting the treatment on your legs, you might be required to lie on your back with your legs elevated.
Depending on how far below the skin the vein is, an ultrasound might be needed as part of your procedure.
Your doctor will clean the skin around the targeted veins. Then with a fine needle, the damaged veins will be injected with a sclerosing agent. The liquid or foam solution will cause the walls of the injected vein to seal shut. Therefore, blood is then redirected to unaffected veins. Over some time, your body will be absorbing the damaged vein, making it less visible and uncomfortable.
You might require up to four treatments based on the size of the treated veins.
After the procedure
You will be able to get up and walk around after the procedure is complete. It is important to walk and move your legs to prevent the formation of blood clots.
You might be asked to wear compression stocking or bandages, for around two weeks, as they can help maintain compression on the treated veins.
Although most people return to their normal routine, it might be wise to have someone drive you home after your procedure. Your doctor might also advise you to avoid any kind of strenuous exercise for a minimum of two weeks after the procedure.
It is also important to avoid sun exposure to the treated areas during this time. The inflammation caused by the injections can lead to dark spots on your skin if it is exposed to the sun. This is more likely if you have a dark skin tone.
Smaller varicose veins and spider veins generally respond quite well to sclerotherapy. You should be able to see improvement within just a few weeks. For larger varicose veins, to see any improvement, it can take up to four months.
In some cases, several sessions of the treatment might be required for eliminating all the varicose or spider veins.
Before you undergo the procedure, it is also important to have realistic expectations about the effectiveness of the treatment. It doesn’t guarantee that there will be no traces of side effects of varicose or spider veins after you undergo the procedure.
In some cases, sclerotherapy can lead to a few serious complications. Some of the side effects that might occur at the site of the injection include bruising, raised red areas, small skin sores, multiple tiny red blood vessels and darkened skin in the form of lines or spots.
Though most of these side effects should generally go away within a few days or weeks, in a few cases, some side effects might take months or even years to completely disappear.
There might be few other complications as well, although these are less common. They include:
- Inflammation- Usually, this is mild but may sometimes cause swelling, warmth, and discomfort around the injection site. Your doctor may suggest an over-the-counter pain reliever to reduce the inflammation.
- Blood clot- A lump of clotted blood can form in a treated vein. In rare cases, a blood clot may even travel to a deeper vein in your leg. This is known as deep vein thrombosis, which is an emergency situation, where the clot travels from your leg to your lungs and blocks a vital artery. It is important to seek immediate care, if you experience any difficulty in breathing, chest pain, or dizziness or if you cough up blood.
- Air bubbles- Tiny air bubbles may rise in your bloodstream and although they don’t always cause symptoms, in some cases, they might. Symptoms can include visual disturbances, fainting, headaches, and nausea. These symptoms can go away generally, but it is important to call your doctor if you experience problems with limb movement or sensation after your procedure.
- Allergic reaction- Sometimes you might also develop an allergic reaction to the solution used for treatment, although this is uncommon.