Are Those Varicose Veins or Spider Veins?

Written By Center for Vein Restoration
Spider Veins

Though caused by the same venous disorder, varicose veins and spider veins have some distinct differences.

Though many patients don’t realize it, “varicose veins” and “spider veins” aren’t synonyms — they’re two distinct conditions with different sets of symptoms. Although caused by the same underlying venous disorder, varicose veins and spider veins differ in several ways.

For one, varicose veins are larger, usually exceeding three millimeters in diameter. They typically appear as blue- or purple-colored bulging ropes along the legs, feet, or ankles. They can be swollen and visible on the legs, but sometimes are not close enough to the surface of the skin to be seen. Other symptoms of varicose veins include aching, throbbing, heavy feeling in the extremities.

In contrast, spider veins are typically one millimeter in diameter. They appear as web-like clusters of blue or red veins on the surface of the skin. Unlike varicose veins, spider veins do not bulge out from under the skin. Though they crop up most often on the legs, spider veins develop on the face, too. Spider veins rarely cause symptoms, so when patients seek treatment, it’s usually for cosmetic reasons.

Despite these differences, both vein conditions stem from a fault in the venous system in the legs.

What Causes Varicose and Spider Veins

Veins and arteries carry blood throughout the body, replenishing it with oxygen and nutrients. Within each leg vein is a one-way valve that pumps blood back to the heart. A variety of factors, including age, weight, and heredity, can cause these valves to malfunction.

Unable to counter the force of gravity and push blood upward, the faulty valve lets the blood collect in the vein, causing the vein walls to rise from underneath the skin due to excess pressure and pooling of blood. When that happens, varicose veins or spider veins emerge.

Because the blood has to travel a longer distance between the extremities and the heart, varicose veins and spider veins appear mostly on the legs. If spider veins show up on the face, it’s probably due to a burst blood vessel, possibly as a result of excessive sun exposure.

Preventing Varicose & Spider Veins

Many factors contribute to the formation of varicose veins and spider veins. Heredity, age, and gender (women tend to get varicose and spider veins at a higher rate than men) all play a significant role. While individuals cannot alter those factors, they can control other influences that contribute to the development of varicose veins and spider veins. Here are four tips that can help to prevent varicose veins and spider veins.

  1. Lose Weight. Excess weight exerts substantial pressure on the valves in the leg veins, which in turn leads to a pooling of blood in the veins and the emergence of varicose veins. Losing those extra pounds, therefore, helps alleviate the pressure and maintain a healthy blood flow.
  2. Get Moving. This doesn’t mean working out for an hour each day. Simply taking a long walk exercises the leg muscles that help pump blood through the veins. People who work at jobs that require long hours of sitting or standing are at risk; to lessen that risk, those individuals should take frequent breaks to move their legs.
  3. Avoid Heat. Heat causes the veins to expand, which boosts the amount of blood in the veins. Heat also damages the blood vessels on the face or legs, which could lead to spider veins. Staying out of the sun, avoiding hot saunas, and smoothing on sunscreen protects the veins and vessels from damage.
  4. Wear Compression Hose. These elastic stockings squeeze the leg veins, encouraging blood flow to the heart. Compression stockings are sold in drugstores and medical supply outlets, but the strongest compression hose are available by prescription. For patients with varicose veins and other medical conditions such as heart disease, prescription compression hose can be dangerous, so they should check with their doctor to make sure it’s safe to wear the stockings.

Treating Varicose & Spider Veins

These prevention tips may also alleviate the discomfort of varicose veins. But if varicose veins become too painful or spider veins are a source of insecurity, patients can choose from several minimally invasive treatments to treat the conditions.

Sclerotherapy, a procedure in which a solution is injected into the vein to close it off, is the preferred therapy for spider veins and smaller varicose veins. Another treatment option is radiofrequency ablation. In this procedure, a thin catheter inserted into the vein that blasts the vein with radio waves. The heat collapses the vein as the blood is accommodated by healthier veins.

At the Center for Vein Restoration, our specialists perform those procedures and others to address varicose veins and spider veins. All require little or no anesthesia, and patients resume their normal activities within hours. If you’ve decided it’s time to treat your varicose veins or spider veins, make an appointment today with our office.

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