Spider veins form when the valves in a vein weaken. Over time, this damage makes the valves lose proper function, causing blood that should be on its way back to the heart to pool visibly.
The wear and tear caused by aging in your body encourage this effect — especially if you have a relatively inactive — or a sedentary — lifestyle. Hormonal changes, obesity, and genetics can all contribute to spider vein development as well.
There’s no cure for spider veins, but in most cases, your doctor will treat them with a medical procedure that aims to reduce or eliminate their appearance. The most commonly used approach for this is called sclerotherapy — a quick outpatient process with a success rate of about 90 percent.
But like all medical procedures, there are some potential side effects of sclerotherapy that you should be aware of. Outcomes improve when patients understand what to expect, and how good aftercare can help ensure the best results.
Table of Contents:
What is sclerotherapy?
During a sclerotherapy procedure, your doctor will inject a solution directly into the affected vein. This solution will irritate the vein’s lining and cause it to collapse. Blood will then reroute and flow through the healthier veins. Finally, the spider vein will clot, get reabsorbed by surrounding tissue, and fade within three to six weeks.
The whole process takes about 15 minutes to one hour. But depending on the severity and extent of someone’s spider veins, it can require between two and five treatments to achieve desired outcomes.
Specialists also recommend upkeep sessions every three to five years to maintain results and keep new spider veins from advancing.
Does sclerotherapy hurt?
In most cases, people can return to normal activities immediately after sclerotherapy. In fact, the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) recommends light movement after a sclerotherapy appointment to prevent blood clots from forming, which can diminish results.
You may also experience some discomfort during the procedure itself — which may include mild stinging or cramping when the needle is inserted into a vein.
Are you eligible for sclerotherapy?
During your initial appointment, your vein specialist will review your case, medical history, and current health to determine if sclerotherapy is right for you.
The basic requirements include the ability to follow and instructions before and after the procedures and the absence of any underlying blood vessel disorders.
The ASDS also says you should let your doctor know:
- If you are pregnant — as most doctors advise against sclerotherapy during pregnancy
- If you are on any prescription drugs
- What over-the-counter medications or supplements you’re taking — especially if they include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, blood thinners, and iron
- If you are at a higher risk of blood clots — like if you smoke or take oral contraceptives
- If you have an allergy or a chronic disease
How safe is sclerotherapy?
Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sclerotherapy is a minimally invasive procedure and requires no anesthesia — all of which reduces the risk of potential problems. Research has shown that patients of all ages respond well to the treatment and that when complications do occur, they are usually minor and resolve within a few weeks.
Most of the side effects of sclerotherapy — if any — are mild and occur at the injection site.
After the procedure, your doctor will have you lie down with your legs elevated to check for the most common post-procedure reactions, including:
- Bruising, swelling, and skin discoloration
- Sores or raised red areas around the injection site
- Stinging or discomfort
- Brown spots or lines
It’s also normal for your spider veins to appear to have worsened before they improve. This is because the healing process can take up to three months.
These superficial side effects usually go away on their own within a few days or weeks — though in rare cases, they may take several months to resolve fully. Still, they’re often not a cause for concern, and patients can often minimize adverse effects by following their doctor’s aftercare instructions.
Rarely, sclerotherapy can have more severe side effects, and they may require medical treatment and include:
- Inflammation that causes swelling and discomfort around the injection site
- A blood clot that forms in a treated vein
- A blood clot that travels deeper into blood vessels — a condition called deep vein thrombosis
- Air bubbles in your bloodstream
- An allergic reaction to the sclerotherapy solution
Make sure to contact your doctor if you experience any ongoing discomfort after your sclerotherapy procedure.
Can you minimize sclerotherapy side effects, and how?
Following your doctor’s instructions before and after sclerotherapy can encourage proper healing, reduce the risk of side effects, and improve your results.
Before the procedure, it’s important to avoid taking any substances that can cause your blood to thin — including aspirin, ibuprofen, and other such supplements. Specialists also recommend that you follow practices that promote good vein health, like:
- Staying active and avoiding prolonged periods of sitting or standing
- Staying out of direct sunlight
- Purchasing a pair of compression socks as directed by your doctor
After treatment, you should wear your compression socks continually for at least 24 hours — or as directed by your vein specialist — to prevent blood clots from forming. In general, you should continue wearing compression socks daily for seven to fourteen days after the procedure.
You can also encourage the best results by:
- Staying active — like taking a 30-minute walk at least twice daily but avoiding strenuous exercise for at least 72 hours
- Continuing to avoid blood-thinning medications and sun exposure
- Not exposing the treatment area to high heat, like with a warm bath, hot tub, or sauna
- Avoiding any air travel for one week after the procedure
Most people can resume normal daily activities within 1 week following their treatment. For any pain, soreness, or inflammation, you can ice the affected area to reduce swelling and take Tylenol to relieve pain. But make sure to contact your doctor if discomfort persists.
Need a free sclerotherapy consultation to make sure?
Sclerotherapy is an effective and safe way to alleviate your spider veins. You can benefit from the procedure without much interruption to your daily life.
Book a free consultation with our vein specialists to see if you’re a good candidate for sclerotherapy and receive a customized plan to get the results you are after.