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Spider Veins: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Spider veins, or telangiectasias, are tiny visible veins that appear on the skin’s surface and are often of a blue, red or purple hue. They tend to measure less than 1.0mm in diameter and develop in the lower extremities of the body. The name “spider veins” comes from the shape of the veins, which usually take on one of three common patterns:

  • A spider-like shape connecting to a central point
  • A branch-like shape with a sunburst pattern
  • A linear pattern with separated lines

Spider veins are similar in appearance to varicose veins; however, spider veins tend to be bigger. They are also typically painless, and harmless to your overall health. Spider veins are very common in the overall general population, but they tend to be more visible with age; in contrast, varicose veins are more prevalent in pregnancies. Those with spider veins usually don’t have varicose veins, however, varicose veins can lead to an increased growth of spider vein clusters. (1) (3)

Where Spider Veins Appear:

Spider veins are often found on the thighs, ankles and calves, but they can sometimes appear on the chest and face. If you suffer from tiny blood vessels bursting, they’re often the most likely cause. Interestingly, spider veins are more common in women than they are in men. (2)

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What Causes Spider Veins?

The human body contains many veins, which carry blood around the anatomy to and from the heart. To make sure that the blood doesn’t flow backwards, the veins have one-way valves which shut as soon as it passes through. If these valves become damaged or in some way less functional, the blood can have issues flowing in the proper direction and start pooling inside the vein instead. As time passes, the affected vein can then bulge and branch out, causing a spidery appearance. (4)

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Risk Factors for Spider Veins

There are many factors that can cause spider veins to appear on a person’s skin, some of which are listed below:

  • Pregnancy: As blood flow increases in accordance with the extra weight brought on by pregnancy, there’s more pressure on the veins which run through the legs. Some notice that spider veins disappear after pregnancy, but in some cases they can be permanent.
  • Sun Damage: UV rays from the sun can damage and break blood vessels, causing spider veins to appear on the face.
  • Obesity: Being too overweight puts extra pressure on veins running through the legs, potentially causing them to branch out into spider veins.
  • A Sedentary Occupation That Involves Sitting: The veins in the legs are forced to put in extra work to pump blood to the heart when you remain in the same position for several hours.
  • Normal Aging: Over time, the valves in your veins get weaker. The muscles which support those in the legs can also lose strength as a person ages, putting more pressure on them to operate efficiently.
  • Genetics: 90% of people with spider veins have a family history of the condition.
  • Hormonal Changes Such As Puberty Or Menopause: A change in estrogen levels can weaken the valves in your veins.
  • Blood clots: Pre-existing damage to the valves further prevents them from working normally.

Many people who experience spider veins typically don’t feel any pain, however, in some cases aching or cramping can occur. Other symptoms linked to spider veins include tiredness, restlessness, throbbing, and a tingling or burning sensation. These symptoms may intensify during menstrual cycles or during pregnancy. Other symptoms that are less common are darkened skin around the ankle, swelling, and ulcers. (2)

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Preventative Tips for Spider Veins:

Similar to varicose veins, there is no scientifically proven method to prevent spider veins. Since spider veins are based on a number of factors, including genetics, there are only ways to help manage and control them. A few helpful tips include:

  • Wearing Sunscreen: Sunscreen helps to protect your skin from harmful UV rays, which can cause spider veins in the face.
  • Be Mindful Of Leg Crossing: Pressure from crossing your legs for too long can slow the blood flow within your legs and damage the blood vessels.
  • Stay Physically Active: If you lead a sedentary lifestyle due to work or personal preference, make sure to shift your weight between your legs periodically to keep the blood flowing. Movement, along with exercise, increases blood flow and decreases the chance of spider veins.
  • Keep Your Legs Elevated: Propping your legs up on an elevated surface such as a pillow will take some of the pressure off of them, and help to drain the blood back to your heart.
  • Invest In Quality Clothes And Shoes: Avoiding tight-fitting clothing that constrains the waist, groin and legs, as this can slow the blood flow in the general lower half of the body. (1)

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Ways to Treat Spider Veins:

For some people, spider veins are a real source of discomfort. For others, they may simply be unappealing to look at. Fortunately, there are several treatment options available to help with the condition, whether the motive is purely aesthetic or for comfort.

  • Sclerotherapy: Sclerotherapy is a procedure involving a concentrated saline solution, which is injected directly into the vein. If successful, the pattern of spider veins may gradually disappear over a few weeks.
  • Endovenous laser therapy (EVLT): EVLT is a novel procedure for the treatment of both spider veins and varicose veins. A small incision is made into the vein, and the fiber from the laser hits it directly, with the intention of causing it to fall apart. This, however, may take several months to a year to be successful long-term. (1) (3)
  • Excel V+ laser: Excel V+ is the latest generation laser technology from Cutera that treats a variety of vascular conditions from tiny spider veins to deeper blue veins quickly, safely, and effectively. The Excel V+ Laser is 100% non-invasive and treats visible red, blue, or purple veins from the outside, without any need for injections or incisions.