Spider veins are tiny, thin veins that vary in color and that you can see just under the surface of your skin. They’re so named because they remind us of spider webs, and are also sometimes described as looking like marble.
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 telangiectasias, and how they differ from varicose veins. We also cover the treatment and prevention of spider veins.
WHAT CAUSES SPIDER VEINS?
Malfunctioning valves in feeder veins are the underlying cause.
Spider veins in the leg, hand, and face are caused by unhealthy valves inside feeder veins, allowing blood to flow backwards instead of upwards toward the heart. Some of this backed-up blood can lead to non-functional, “dead end” veins that appear underneath the surface of the skin as spider veins.
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.
SPIDER VEIN PREVENTION & LIFESTYLE CHANGES
Lifestyle changes to improve your spider veins.
Some spider vein risk factors cannot be avoided, but there are ways to lower the risk of developing them as well as ways to help decrease the symptoms associated with spider veins. Below are a few lifestyle changes to help with spider vein disease:
- Exercise. Movement helps promote healthy blood flow. Even something as simple as walking can improve vein health.
- Diet. By eating a diet full of fiber and low in salt, processed foods and sugar, vein health is able to improve.
- Changing position. Avoid being sedentary, or sitting or standing for too long, by switching up positions or taking a quick walk.
- Elevate legs. Raising legs above the heart aids veins in circulating blood by alleviating pressure and stress.
- Wear compression stockings. These socks help support blood flow while also decreasing pressure inside the veins, and ultimately relieve common spider vein symptoms such as discomfort.
SPIDER VEIN DIAGNOSIS
Diagnosis of spider veins happens with a simple physical examination by a vein specialist.
Because spider veins are visible at the surface of your skin, they can simply be diagnosed by a vein specialist during a physical exam. These veins can appear anywhere on the legs, the face, and the chest. They are purple, blue, pink or red and typically resemble a spider web and can be flat or slightly raised to the touch.
Treatments for spider veins
You can’t remove spider veins with over-the-counter or prescribed pills, creams, or gels. Other at-home or medical treatments for spider veins can reduce or remove them.
Home remedies and treatments
Compression socks or stockings help blood flow more easily through your legs. Wearing them regularly may help prevent more spider veins from developing. These socks can be different strengths, from over-the-counter light pressure socks to prescription-strength stockings, which can only be prescribed by a doctor.
Exercise and weight loss can help prevent spider veins. Engaging the muscles in your legs helps push blood up through them and avoid pooling. Losing weight can also relieve your legs of extra downward pressure that makes it harder for the blood to travel up your veins.
A few studies have shown that horse chestnut seed extract may also help reduce the symptoms and development of spider veins, but this treatment needs more research to determine its effectiveness.
One of the most common spider vein removal procedures is laser treatment. For these treatments, a surgical-grade laser above your skin targets your spider veins causing them to dissolve. You may need more than one laser treatment session to completely remove the appearance of spider veins, depending on their size.
Another professional treatment to remove spider veins is sclerotherapy. A small chemical injection goes directly into the spider vein, which makes its sides stick together and block blood flow. Blood then re-routes to healthier veins nearby, and the injected vein eventually fades.
Risks and side effects of spider veins treatments
Compression socks aren’t safe for everyone. They may cause injury to the skin or nerves if they’re not worn properly, putting uneven pressure on your legs.
Unlike sclerotherapy, laser therapy doesn’t break your skin, but it may cause infection, burns, bruising, bleeding, nerve damage, skin discoloration, and other side effects. Sclerotherapy has similar risks, including allergic reaction to the chemical injection.
Check with your doctor before choosing any spider vein removal treatment to evaluate your risks and find what’s best for you.