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Spider veins are small, damaged veins that can appear on the surface of the legs or face. They are usually not painful or harmful, but some people may wish to treat them for cosmetic reasons.
Spider veins can be blue, purple, or red and may appear in the form of thin lines, webs, or branches. People sometimes also refer to them as thread veins.
A range of treatments can remove spider veins or reduce their appearance.
In this article, we discuss the causes of spider veins and how they differ from varicose veins. We also cover the treatment and prevention of spider veins.
In the legs, spider veins can occur when the valves inside the veins stop working properly.
Veins carry blood back to the heart. To prevent blood from flowing backward, they contain a one-way valve that closes once the blood passes through it.
If this valve weakens or becomes damaged, the blood may struggle to flow in the correct direction, and it can begin to pool inside the vein. Over time, this can cause a bulge in the vein that branches out, resulting in spider veins.
Spider veins on the face are often the result of tiny blood vessels bursting. Increased pressure or sun damage can cause this to occur.
Spider veins and varicose veins are different forms of a medical condition called venous insufficiency. In the legs, both conditions result from having weakened or damaged valves in the veins. However, the two issues have different symptoms.
Spider veins are usually small, thin lines that may be flat or only slightly raised. They are often blue, red, or purple. Although they can cause some discomfort, they are painless most of the time.
Varicose veins are larger and deeper than spider veins. They may also appear lumpy or twisted and are usually flesh-colored or red.
Depending on their severity, varicose veins can cause a variety of symptoms. These may include:
- swelling of the legs or ankles
- an achy or heavy feeling in the legs
Varicose veins may also increase a person’s risk of blood clots and circulation problems.
Factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing spider veins include:
- Genetics: Up to 90 percent of people with spider veins have a family history of them.
- Pregnancy: Increased blood moving through the body in addition to the extra weight of the fetus places more pressure on leg veins during pregnancy. Some women notice that spider veins disappear after pregnancy, but they can be permanent.
- Being female: Spider veins tend to affect women more often than men.
- Being older: The valves in veins tend to get weaker over time. The calf muscles, which help support the veins in the legs and enable them to pump blood upward, may also lose some of their strength as a person ages.
- Being overweight: Extra body weight can place added pressure on leg veins.
- Hormones: Hormonal birth control and hormonal treatments for menopause may increase the risk of spider veins because estrogen can weaken vein valves.
- Sitting or standing for extended periods: Veins in the legs have to work harder to pump blood up toward the heart when a person remains in the same position for several hours at a time.
- A previous blood clot or vein damage: This can damage the valves and make them unable to work properly.
- Excess pressure in the face: This can be due to forceful coughing, sneezing, or vomiting. Some women may get spider veins on their face after pushing during childbirth.
- Sun damage: Ultraviolet light from the sun can damage the skin and cause broken blood vessels or spider veins, especially on the face.
Although generally harmless, spider veins can cause discomfort, and some people may wish to treat or remove them for cosmetic reasons.
Several different treatment options are available:
Compression stockings or socks
Wearing compression stockings or socks places pressure on the veins in the lower legs. This pressure can help improve blood flow and prevent further spider or varicose veins. Compression stockings may also help relieve leg swelling and lower the risk of blood clots in the legs.
Types of compression stocking include:
- Support pantyhose: These provide only light pressure but are available in many stores. It is also possible to buy a range of support pantyhose online.
- Gradient compression stockings and socks: These provide medium pressure around the feet, ankles, and calves. They are often available from specialist stores and pharmacies. A range of gradient compression stockings and socks is also available to purchase online.
- Prescription compression stockings: These provide the most pressure to the feet and legs. They are only available on prescription and come in various sizes and strengths as well as footless varieties. Prescription compression stockings are not suitable for some people, including those who have heart failure or other heart problems.
Sclerotherapy and closure system
Sclerotherapy involves injecting an irritant directly into the affected vein. When the walls of the vein become irritated, they stick together and keep blood from flowing into the area.
This procedure can reduce swelling and cause the vein to shrink. Over time, the spider vein fades or vanishes. Several treatments may be necessary to obtain the desired results.
Similar to sclerotherapy, closure system treatment involves injecting a substance into the affected veins. This substance is sticky, and it closes the vein off from blood flow, causing the spider vein to fade or disappear with time.
As with sclerotherapy, a person may require several treatments before they are happy with the outcome.
Healthcare professionals who can perform sclerotherapy or closure system include:
- vein specialists
- plastic surgeons
- cosmetic surgeons
- trained nurses
These professionals can carry out sclerotherapy or closure system in their office as the procedure does not usually require anesthesia.
After undergoing sclerotherapy or closure system, the person usually wears compression stockings for several days or weeks. Spider veins will gradually start to disappear after these procedures, but the process may take up to 6 weeks.
Some people need multiple treatments to get rid of spider veins.
A healthcare professional can use a laser to treat spider veins that are smaller than 3 millimeters and close to the surface of the skin. The laser is a strong, focused beam of light that causes the spider vein to clot and dry up.
Laser treatments are less invasive than sclerotherapy or closure system because there is no injection.
Endovenous laser therapy (EVLT)
EVLT is a newer procedure for the treatment of spider veins and small varicose veins.
A healthcare professional makes a small incision in the affected vein and then inserts a laser fiber. The laser applies heat directly to the vein and causes it to collapse. The vein may take several months or up to a year to disappear.
EVLT involves the use of local anesthesia.
Although some surgical treatments can be effective for larger varicose veins, doctors usually do not perform them on spider veins. The reason for this is that spider veins are small, so they often respond well to the less invasive treatments above.
Certain lifestyle changes and self-care tips can help prevent new spider veins appearing or stop existing ones from getting worse. These include:
- Wearing sunscreen. Applying sunscreen every day can help prevent some spider veins, particularly on the face. Use sun-protective hats and clothing when outdoors for extended periods.
- Maintaining a healthy weight. This helps reduce pressure on the veins and keeps blood flowing well.
- Wearing compression stockings. If spider veins or varicose veins are a concern or run in the family, considering using compression stockings or socks.
- Staying mobile. Avoid sitting or standing for extended periods without taking a break. Get up and walk around every 30 minutes.
- Avoiding tight clothing. Clothing that is too tight around the waist, legs, or pelvis can restrict blood flow and may increase the risk of spider veins.
- Avoiding the overuse of hot tubs and saunas. Excessive heat can cause veins to swell, increasing the risk of dilated and bulging veins in the legs.
- Limiting alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol can cause flushing in the face and broken blood vessels in some people.
- Getting regular exercise. Physical activity can help improve circulation and prevent blood from pooling in the legs.
- Elevating the legs. Raising the legs when sitting or lying down can help prevent blood from pooling downward in the legs.
- Seeing a dermatologist. People with skin conditions that can increase the risk of spider veins, such as rosacea, may want to consider seeing a doctor or dermatologist to discuss treatment options.
- Using cover-up products. If the appearance of spider veins is a concern, people can often use body or leg makeup to mask or minimize them temporarily. Self-tanning products can also work for this purpose.
Spider veins result from damaged veins or burst blood vessels. They are typically painless and do not cause health problems, but some people may wish to treat them for cosmetic reasons.
A variety of treatment options can help improve the appearance of spider veins or remove them altogether. For medical procedures, it is always essential to consult a licensed healthcare professional who specializes in dermatology, vein care, or cosmetic or plastic surgery.