Spider veins, visible on the skin’s surface, can be unsightly, causing self-consciousness and sometimes embarrassment. They can be especially annoying in warm weather – time for wearing short skirts, swimsuits and shorts. They are often likened to varicose veins, although they are different in important ways. Spider veins may sometimes be slightly palpable, but they are not the bulging, cord-like vessels called varicose veins, which keep enlarging over time. Spider veins aren’t painful, but varicose veins can be very painful. Serious, associated health problems can occur with varicose veins, such as phlebitis, leg ulcers, and blood clots.
Signs and Symptoms of Spider Veins
Some characteristics of spider veins are:
- small, with multiple trails, like the branches of a tree
- colored red or blue
- usually found on the legs, chest, arms, and face
- rarely painful
- not associated with medical problems
- a cosmetic issue
Causes and Risk Factors
Veins return blood to the heart after it has supplied oxygen to the body’s tissues. They can sometimes become weak, enlarged, and visible through the skin. It happens when the valves in the blood vessels weaken, allowing blood flowing toward the heart to, by gravity, flow backwards, usually to the legs. Blood can pool in the veins, causing the walls to weaken and to turn into spider veins.
Factors which can increase the chances of developing spider veins include:
- Gender: A slightly higher percentage of women than men develop spider veins.
- Increasing age: Although young people can get spider veins, increasing age is associated with an increased probability of developing spider veins.
- Heredity: The tendency to develop spider veins runs in families. When one twin has spider veins, usually the other twin also has spider veins
- Obesity: Excess weight strains blood vessel valves and walls, causing them to become weak, and more likely to become spider veins.
- Occupation: Jobs that involve standing for long periods of time, such as nursing and hairdressing, are associated with the development of spider veins.
- Hormones: Changes in hormone levels, such as those that occur during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, can alter the strength of blood vessel walls.
- Medications: Drugs that include the hormones estrogen and progesterone, such as birth control pills or post-menopausal hormone therapy, can increase the possibility of developing spider veins.
- Medical history: People with a history of blood clots also may develop spider veins more readily.
- Ultraviolet light: Extended time in a tanning bed, or direct sunlight can cause spider veins to surface.
- Skin trauma: Injury or damage to the skin may be the source of some spider veins.
Diagnosis is made by inspection.
Treatment for Spider Veins
Mayoral Dermatology offers state-of-the-art treatments which can eliminate spider veins, painlessly, quickly, and permanently. These spider vein treatments include:
- Sclerotherapy is one of the most common, and popular, therapies for spider veins. A sterile salt-water solution is injected into each individual vein. It irritates the lining of the veins causing swelling. The interior walls of the vein then stick together, sealing the vein against blood flow. There’s no pooling of blood in the veins – the problem that creates and makes spider veins visible. The damaged veins form scar tissue, initiating fading of the veins, then their disappearance in 2 to 3 weeks.
- Vbeam Perfecta Pulsed Dye Laser (PDL): A high-intensity laser beam targets spider veins. The powerful and effective technique coagulates the pooled blood in the veins. It has the added benefit of stimulating collagen production, revitalizing and refreshing the skin. The PDL is excellent for the treatment of spider veins on the nose and red flushing associated with rosacea. The device has a unique cooling system which sprays a cool mist onto the skin just before each laser pulse. This technique is comfortable and pain-free. There is no recovery time or follow-up treatment required. The patient can return to work or usual activity immediately.
- Gentle YAG Laser: This revolutionary system applies heat to the spider veins, causing thermocoagulation of the blood vessels. They clog and form scar tissue, similar to the effect of sclerotherapy. A cool spray of cryogen chills the skin just before each laser pulse. It’s quick and painless.
Prevention of Spider Veins
There is no guarantee that an individual won’t get spider veins, but there are ways to lessen the chance of developing the unsightly veins.
- Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best ways to decrease the risk of developing spider veins.
- Regular exercise is recommended. Focus on exercises that work the leg muscles, such as walking and running. Regular exercise will improve leg and vein strength and circulation.
- Apply a daily moisturizer which contains a sunscreen.
- Make an effort to elevate your legs when possible, and avoid standing for extended periods of time.
- Avoid wearing high-heeled shoes for extended periods of time.
Myths about Spider Veins
- Spider veins are a necessary part of the circulatory system: Wrong. That’s why removing them causes no harm.
- Pregnancy has nothing to do with spider veins: Wrong. Women who are susceptible to spider veins may development them in pregnancy. For women who already have spider veins, 90 percent will experience worsening during pregnancy. After delivery, the spider veins may subside. A woman seeking treatment should wait until she is done breastfeeding.
- Spider veins are painful: Wrong. Pain may indicate the more-serious problem of varicose veins.
- Spider veins are considered a medical problem: Wrong. They are a cosmetic problem but are not a threat to health. The problem is not usually covered by insurance.
- Spider veins may return after treatment: Wrong. New spider veins may form.
- If not treated, spider veins turn into varicose veins: Wrong. They are two distinct conditions.
- Crossing your legs too much can cause spider veins: Wrong. Spider veins just happen to occur at the sites where people cross their legs.
Varicose Veins and Spider Veins Fact Sheet. Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/varicose-spider-veins.html
Duffy D. Sclerotherapy – treating the small vessels. West J Med 1989 Dec 151(6):654