Spider veins and varicose veins occur due to weakness or damage in the veins. Varicose veins are typically larger, but both are externally visible.

Spider veins can be blue, purple, or red. They may appear in the form of thin lines, webs, or branches. People sometimes also refer to them as thread veins. Typically, they are not painful or harmful, but some people may wish to treat them for cosmetic reasons.

A range of treatment options can remove spider veins or reduce their appearance.

This article discusses the causes of spider veins, also known as telangiectases, and how they differ from varicose veins. We also cover the treatment and prevention of spider veins.

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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In the legs, spider veins can occur when the valves inside the veins stop working correctly.

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 sustains damage, the blood may have difficulty flowing 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 these to occur.

Spider veins and varicose veins are different forms of a medical condition called venous insufficiency. Both conditions result from having weakened or damaged valves in the veins in the legs. However, the two issues have different symptoms.

Spider veins are typically small, thin lines that may be flat or 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 appear lumpy or twisted.

Depending on their severity, varicose veins can cause a variety of symptoms. These may include:

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% of people with spider veins have a family history of them.
  • Pregnancy: An increase in blood flow and the extra weight of the fetus on leg veins during pregnancy may cause spider veins.
  • Sex: Spider veins occur in 41% of females ages 50 years and older. They tend to affect females almost twice as much as males.
  • Age: 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.
  • Having 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. This is 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 more than 4 hours.
  • Past blood clots or vein damage: This can damage the valves and make them unable to work correctly.
  • Excess pressure in the face: This can be due to forceful coughing, sneezing, or vomiting. Some people may get spider veins on their face after pushing during childbirth.
  • Sun damage: UV 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. Some people may also wish to treat or remove them for cosmetic reasons.

There are different treatment options a person can try:

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 stockings include:

  • Support pantyhose: These provide only light pressure but are available in many stores.
  • Gradient compression stockings and socks: These provide medium pressure around the feet, ankles, and calves. They are often available at specialist stores and pharmacies.
  • Prescription compression stockings: These provide the most pressure to the feet and legs. They 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. Due to irritation, the veins 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 result.

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 to produce the desired outcome.

Laser treatment

A healthcare professional can use a laser to treat small spider veins close to the skin’s surface. 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 and closure systems because there is no injection. However, laser treatments are typically less effective in reducing spider veins.

Endovenous laser therapy (EVLT)

EVLT is a newer procedure for treating 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.

Surgery

Although some surgical treatments can be effective for larger varicose veins, doctors typically do not perform them on spider veins.

Certain lifestyle changes and self-care tips can help prevent new spider veins from appearing or stop existing ones from getting worse. These include:

  • Wearing sunscreen: Applying sunscreen every day can help prevent spider veins, particularly on the face. Use sun-protective hats and clothing when outdoors for extended periods.
  • Reaching or maintaining a moderate 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, consider wearing compression stockings or socks.
  • Staying mobile: Avoid sitting or standing for extended periods without taking a break.
  • 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 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.
  • Contacting a dermatologist: People with skin conditions that can increase the risk of spider veins, such as rosacea, may want to consider contacting a doctor or dermatologist to discuss treatment options.
  • Using cover-up products: If the appearance of spider veins is a concern, people may wish to 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.