Dermatological Services - Telangiectasia
Telangiectasias are small dilated blood vessels near the surface of the skin or mucous membranes, measuring between 0.5 and 1 millimeter in diameter. They can develop anywhere on the body but are commonly seen on the face around the nose, cheeks, and chin. They can also develop on the legs, specifically on the upper thigh, below the knee joint, and around the ankles.
Some telangiectasia are due to developmental abnormalities that can closely mimic the behaviour of benign vascular neoplasms. They may be composed of abnormal aggregations of arterioles, capillaries, or venules. Because telangiectasias are vascular lesions, they blanch when tested with diascopy.
The causes of telangiectasia can be divided into congenital and acquired factors.
Goldman states that "numerous inherited or congenital conditions display cutaneous telangiectasia". These include;
- Naevus flammeus (port-wine stain)
- Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome
- Marfucci's syndrome
- Hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (Osler-Weber-Rendu syndrome)
- Ataxia telangiectasia
- Sturge-Weber syndrome, a nevus formation in the skin supplied by the trigeminal nerve and associated with glaucoma, meningeal angiomas, and mental retardation
Telangiectasia in the legs is often related to the presence of venous hypertension within underlying varicose veins. Flow abnormalities within the medium sized veins of the leg (reticular veins) can also lead to the development of telangiectasia. Factors that predispose to the development of varicose and telangiectatis leg veins include:
- Age: The development of spider veins may occur at any age but usually occurs between 18 and 35 years, and peaks between 50 and 60 years.
- Gender: Females are affected approximately four to one to males.
- Pregnancy: Pregnancy is a key factor contributing to the formation of varicose and spider veins. The most important factor is circulating hormones that weaken vein walls. There's also a significant increase in the blood volume during pregnancy, which tends to distend veins, causing valve dysfunction which leads to blood pooling in the veins. Moreover, later in pregnancy, the enlarged uterus can compress veins, causing higher vein pressure leading to dilated veins. Varicose veins that form during pregnancy may spontaneously improve or even disappear a few months after delivery.
- Lifestyle/Occupation: Those who are involved with prolonged sitting or standing in their daily activities have an increased risk of developing varicose veins. Therefore, the weight of the blood continuously pressing against the closed valves causes them to fail, leading to vein distention.
Other acquired causes
Acquired telangiectasia, not related to other venous abnormalities, for example on the face and trunk, can be caused by factors such as:
- Acne rosacea
- Environmental damage such as that caused by sun or cold exposure
- Trauma to skin such as contusions or surgical incisions.
- Radiation exposure such as that experienced during radiotherapy for the treatment of cancer
- Carcinoid syndrome
- CREST syndrome (a variant of scleroderma)
- Chronic treatment with topical corticosteroids may lead to telangiectasia.
- spider angiomas are a radial array of tiny arterioles that commonly occur in pregnant women and in patients with hepatic cirrhosis and are associated with palmar erythema. In men, they are related to high estrogen levels secondary to liver disease.
Sclerotherapy is the "gold standard" and is preferred over laser for eliminating telangiectasiae and smaller varicose leg veins. A sclerosant medication is injected into the diseased vein so it hardens and eventually shrinks away. Varicose veins and reticular leg veins, if present, must be treated prior to any treatment of the telengiectasia. Varicose veins can be treated with foam sclerotherapy, endovenous laser treatment, radiofrequency ablation or open surgery.
Telangiectasias on the face are often treated with laser. Laser therapy uses a light beam that is pulsed onto the veins in order to seal them off, causing them to dissolve. These light-based treatment requires adequate heating of the veins. For optimal results, several laser treatments are usually necessary.