Frequently Asked Questions About Varicose Veins and Venous Disease

The veins in the body play a crucial role in circulation. Healthy veins contain valves that open and close and assist in carrying blood back to the heart. Vein disease occurs if those valves become damaged, causing the backward flow of blood and pooling in the legs. Approximately 80 million people in the U.S. are affected by a form of venous disease. While some symptoms may seem minor, if left untreated, these symptoms can become life threatening.

Our team of advanced vein specialists want to make sure you have all the information and support you need. They’re always ready to answer any questions you may have about veins and vein treatment. Some questions come up more frequently than others, so we have compiled a list of answers to get you started.

Varicose Veins and Spider Veins

Venous Disease

Improving Your Vascular Health


What are varicose veins, and how common are they?

Varicose veins are twisted, bulging, enlarged veins visible beneath the surface of the skin. For some, it may be more than a cosmetic issue, and cause symptoms that include pain, swelling, heaviness and cramping. Varicose veins affect up to 35% of Americans.

What are spider veins?

Spider veins are tiny clusters of red, blue or purple-colored clusters of veins that sometimes accompany varicose veins. While they are often found on the legs, they may also appear on the face. Unlike varicose veins, which develop deeper in the leg, spider veins develop near the surface of the skin.

They get their name from their appearance, given that they often branch out like a spider’s web. Spider veins do not cause varicose veins and may not have any other symptoms, but both may be a sign that there are other venous issues that need to be evaluated.

What causes varicose veins?

Weak or damaged valves inside veins let blood flow back into veins, rather than travel to the heart. Pooling blood in the veins causes them to twist and swell into varicose veins.

What are the potential symptoms of varicose veins besides how they look?

Varicose veins can cause several symptoms, including pain, itching, swelling, heaviness and fatigue. In the most severe cases, they can bleed or cause ulceration (skin tears), which can be quite difficult to heal.

Who gets varicose veins and spider veins?

Risk factors may include:

  • Age
  • History of leg blood clots
  • Family history
  • Vein valve defects at birth
  • Hormones
  • Medications for birth control or hormone replacement
  • Obesity
  • Previous vein surgery
  • Postmenopausal hormonal replacement
  • Standing or sitting for a long time
  • Trauma

Do varicose veins and spider veins need to be treated?

Some people choose to seek treatment for cosmetic reasons, even when there are no other symptoms.

For those with symptoms, if varicose veins are left untreated, these symptoms may worsen and complications may arise, including deep vein thrombosis, a potentially serious condition. Early diagnosis is key for the most effective outcome.

Are there non-medical treatments for varicose and spider veins?

Yes, these include:

  • Lifestyle changes: Exercising, weight loss or a low-salt diet can help relieve symptoms.
  • Compression stockings: Also known as support stockings, these can be found at most surgical supply stores or pharmacies and help to ease discomfort by improving blood flow. However, these types of stockings can also cut off circulation if you get the wrong size or wear them incorrectly. Talk to your doctor about the right kind for you, and to get more information on how long you may need to wear them.

What other treatment options are available for varicose veins?

There are several different procedures to treat varicose veins today, and the old vein “stripping” is rarely done. Henry Ford physicians are all fellowship-trained, board-certified experts offering the most advanced treatments – including noninvasive and minimally invasive procedures. These include:

  • Laser therapy: Laser technology is used to break down the vein wall of the affected vein.
  • Radiofrequency ablation: Guided by ultrasound imaging, a tiny probe is inserted under the skin and directed to the affected vein. The probe emits heat to break down the vein wall.
  • Microphlebectomy: Several small incisions are made in the skin and then the varicose vein is removed.
  • Liquid or foam sclerotherapy: A solution is injected into the vein wall to irritate the lining and cause the vein to collapse, making it invisible.

Some of these procedures are also used to treat spider veins.

The majority of procedures are performed in a convenient, safe office setting. The Henry Ford Vein Center team has all available resources to treat even the most complex cases.

What are the potential side effects of vein procedures?

Side effects may include bruising, pigmentation changes at the site of treatment, skin changes and reoccurrence of the vein. A one-year post treatment follow-up is recommended. However, you may call our office at any time with your concerns or for needed follow-up. Touch-up procedures may be needed on an annual basis or as recommended to maintain your results.

Can varicose veins or spider veins return?

Yes, varicose or spider veins may reoccur. You may require maintenance treatment.

Will my insurance cover treatment for varicose or spider veins?

The majority of our patients are approved by insurance and have little to no out-of-pocket expense. Some procedures may not be covered by insurance, but cosmetic self-pay options are available.

Can you prevent varicose veins?

Aside from weight loss, there really is no way to prevent varicose veins. For symptomatic veins, the first line of therapy is simple compression stockings. When symptoms don’t improve or if you can’t tolerate the use of stockings, it’s important to see a physician who specializes in the treatment of varicose veins.

What are the different types of venous disease?

There are several types of venous disease, including deep vein thrombosis, chronic venous insufficiency, venous ulcers and vein compression blockages. These can be complex and, in some cases, lead to life-threatening complications.

What is deep vein thrombosis?

Deep vein thrombosis is a type of venous disease that occurs in the deep vein system, most often the legs, that can result in swelling, pain, skin discoloration, and in severe cases skin erosions and ulcers. If this travels to the lungs, it can block the flow of blood to pick up oxygen (known as a pulmonary embolism), possibly resulting in cardiac arrest and sometimes death.

What is chronic venous insufficiency?

Chronic venous insufficiency is a condition affecting the veins, which return blood from the body to the heart. It usually occurs in the legs and develops when valves in leg veins don’t work properly. As a result, blood flows backward and pools in the legs. Also called post-thrombotic syndrome, it is a condition that often develops after deep vein thrombosis.

Chronic venous insufficiency is a long-term condition that worsens over time. Proper treatment can successfully manage it, though, especially with an early diagnosis. Otherwise, it can lead to varicose veins and venous ulcers (skin sores) on the lower legs.

Why are pregnant women more susceptible for developing chronic venous insufficiency?

Oftentimes, pregnant women are more susceptible given the hormones that cause changes in veins during pregnancy. When these veins don’t return to their original size, it can lead to chronic venous insufficiency.

What are venous ulcers and what causes them?

Venous ulcers, also known as stasis ulcers, are open sores that can develop on the legs. As with other venous disease, they are a sign that there are issues with your veins that need to be addressed. In addition, related conditions such as varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency may cause the ulcers.

How do you treat venous ulcers?

Because these are open wounds, they require regular cleaning and dressing. In addition, you should avoid any skin products that irritate the wound. Other treatments may include:

  • Compression stockings to improve blood flow
  • Topical medicines such as an antibiotic
  • Oral medicines
  • Allergy testing to determine if there is an allergy-related cause

What are vein compression blockages?

There are several types of conditions that result from a large vein being compressed or pinched. These include iliac vein compression syndrome, which affects the two large veins that pass through your pelvis and lower abdomen. When these become blocked, it can cut off blood flow to both legs or just one (known as May-Thurner syndrome). In both cases, it can lead to potentially fatal complications.

When do I need to see a vascular specialist?

If you suspect you have venous disease, you should be clinically evaluated by a vascular surgeon, which includes a history and physical examination. Henry Ford vascular surgery experts treat conditions affecting your blood vessel network, veins and lymph vessels. They can help identify your condition and deliver life-saving treatments for even the most complex forms and advanced stages of venous disease.

How do I know if I’m at risk for venous disease?

Risk factors for all types of venous disease are similar, and may include:

  • Congenital (present since birth) valve defects in veins
  • Damage to leg vein valves, including from previous blood clots, surgery or injury
  • Family history of the disease, blood clots or deep vein thrombosis
  • Work or activities that result in minimal movement, such as standing still or sitting for long periods
  • Obesity or excess weight
  • Smoking

In addition, other health conditions such as diabetes, or even treatment for some conditions (for example, certain types of cancer treatments), may increase your risk for developing vascular disease.

How can I minimize my risk and improve my vascular health?

Make healthy lifestyle choices, including:

  • Get active
  • Eat better, especially plants
  • Lose weight
  • Manage your blood pressure
  • Stop smoking

How moving more can improve your vein health

Getting active is a key step for better vein health. However, if you suspect you may already have venous disease, check with your doctor first. While more activity is generally healthy, increasing your activity levels may actually worsen any symptoms of venous disease.

The benefits of a plant-based diet

Some of the best foods we can eat are plants. Whole food plant-based diets provide several benefits that can help to improve your cardiovascular health, including improving cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, decreasing inflammation, eliminating added sugars and boosting fiber intake.

These meals can require more time to prepare than convenience foods, but you can streamline by prepping in bulk and freezing meals for later. Looking for ideas? Check out our healthy recipes.

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