Sclerotherapy

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Sclerotherapy facts

  • During the sclerotherapy procedure, a health-care professional injects chemicals into smaller veins, which damage the inner lining and produce a clot. As the clot is reabsorbed, the vessel is permanently obliterated.
  • The choice of the chemical sclerosing agent and its physical form depend on the size of the vessel to be treated.
  • Treatment of the correct vessels can improve the symptoms of venous insufficiency.
  • Small superficial vessels are often destroyed for cosmetic reasons.

What is sclerotherapy?

Sclerotherapy is a medical procedure whereby a chemical, the sclerosant, is injected into a vein to entirely obliterate it. The sclerosant damages the innermost lining of the vessel, resulting in a clot that blocks the blood circulation in the vein beyond. Veins carry unoxygenated blood from the peripheral tissues back to the heart. Since the blood pressure in the veins is low, the blood is pumped by forward by contractions of the heart. To prevent back-flow, most veins have valves that only allow blood only to flow in the direction of the heart. When these valves become incompetent, veins become enlarged and bulging (varicose). Smaller veins that feed these varicose veins can also become enlarged and appear as red or blue spider veins in the skin. Varicose veins can lead to a chronic swelling condition of the leg called venous insufficiency. Venous insufficiency predisposes a person to blood clots and skin ulceration. Even more frequently, damaged veins are manifested as unsightly spider veins. The destruction of these types of veins can be desirable both medically and cosmetically.

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Is sclerotherapy safe?

All medical procedures have risks that should be considered carefully prior to embarking on a particular treatment. Since sclerotherapy is frequently used to treat cosmetic problems, untoward and dangerous side effects are fully explained to the patient.

Does sclerotherapy hurt?

Because this procedure requires injections through the skin, it is not a painless procedure. Certain chemicals that are injected (sclerosants) are more likely to cause pain than others. If the sclerosant is deposited outside the vein inadvertently, this is often more painful.

Is sclerotherapy an effective treatment for varicose veins and spider veins?

Sclerotherapy is an effective technique to obliterate or collapse veins. Other techniques include surgical removal of the offending vein, endovenous laser destruction (fiberoptic-transmitted laser light) and, for very small vessels, percutanous laser light or intense pulsed-light exposure are also effective.

Who is a good candidate for sclerotherapy?

Those with venous insufficiency who have disease that is poorly controlled with compression stockings and who are not obese are ideal candidates for sclerotherapy. To determine if sclerotherapy obliteration is likely to be of benefit, the site of the defective vein is identified as well as the venous drainage pattern. Healthy people who complain of unsightly superficial veins of small caliber (4 mm or less) are also candidates for sclerotherapy.

How do people prepare for the sclerotherapy procedure?

Patients are screened using special ultrasound techniques to determine the site of venous disease prior to treatment. In situations where there is only a small area of spider veins, this is rarely done.

How are sclerotherapy injections administered?

There are now two FDA-approved sclerosants available, sodium tetradecyl sulfate (a detergent) and polidocanol (Asclera). For small veins, hypertonic saline is occasionally used. Depending on the size of the vein to be treated, the sclerosant may be administered as foam. A needle of the appropriate caliber is inserted into the vessel to be treated, and the chemical is injected.

What is the recovery time for sclerotherapy?

This is an outpatient procedure and the patient leaves the office on the same day of treatment.

What aftercare is needed following a sclerotherapy procedure?

Patients should wear compression dressings for one to three weeks after treatment. A follow-up visit within two weeks to enable the evacuation of blood clots in larger veins can improve the prognosis and the appearance.

What are the benefits of sclerotherapy?

For patients with venous insufficiency, treatment can be beneficial by improving venous blood flow and limiting chronic swelling. For those with cosmetic complaints, their appearance can be improved.

What are risks, side effects, and complications of sclerotherapy?

Sclerotherapy risks, side effects, and complications include hyperpigmentation, temporary swelling, capillary dilation (telangiectatic matting), pain from the injection, localized hives, tape compression blister, tape compression folliculitis, and recurrence, vasovagal reflex, localized hair growth (hirsutism), skin death (cutaneous necrosis), allergic reaction, superficial thrombophlebitis, arterial injection, pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis, nerve damage, and migraine headaches.

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Does insurance cover the cost of sclerotherapy?

Although insurance companies differ in their coverage and preapproval is always helpful, the treatment of venous insufficiency is usually covered. The treatment of cosmetic problems including spider veins is rarely covered.

Medically reviewed by Robert J. Bryg, MD; Board Certified Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Cardiovascular Disease

REFERENCE:

Goldman, Mitchel P. "My Sclerotherapy Technique for Telangiectasia and Reticular Veins." Dermatol Surg 36 (2010): 1040-1045.

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Reviewed on 8/10/2016
References
Medically reviewed by Robert J. Bryg, MD; Board Certified Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Cardiovascular Disease

REFERENCE:

Goldman, Mitchel P. "My Sclerotherapy Technique for Telangiectasia and Reticular Veins." Dermatol Surg 36 (2010): 1040-1045.

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