Can Spider Veins Be a Symptom of an Underlying Condition?

spider veins on skin

Table of Contents

  • What Are Spider Veins?
  • What Causes Spider Veins?
  • Are Spider Veins Bad?
  • When Should You See a Doctor About Your Spider Veins?
  • Looking for a Vascular Specialist in Your Area?

If you’re self-conscious about visible veins on your lower body or face, you’re not alone. There’s a good chance you’re looking at spider veins. They’re prevalent among women and older adults, though two-thirds of people with spider veins get them before they turn 25

By themselves, spider veins are typically little more than a cosmetic nuisance. But can spider veins indicate serious conditions? To answer those questions accurately, you need to know the basics about spider veins and how they develop.

What Are Spider Veins?

Spider veins are damaged blood vessels that are visible through the skin. 

Spider Veins vs. Varicose Veins

They most often develop on the feet, ankles, and legs — though some people get spider veins on their faces. Spider veins appear as networks of winding red or blue lines under the skin. They’re not usually raised or painful like varicose veins

Spider Veins vs. Spider Angiomas

Many people confuse spider veins with spider angiomas. Both are abnormal blood vessels that appear beneath the skin, but there are key differences.

Spider veins appear on the legs and face, but spider angiomas often appear on the upper body. While spider veins can look like spider webs, spider angiomas are more likely to resemble the spider itself. You’ll often see a red dot in the center of a network of outward-spreading blood vessels.

Not sure whether you have an angioma or spider veins? Try pressing on the spot. Often, an angioma will disappear with gentle pressure and reappear with a release. Spider angiomas may be harmless but may also be a sign of liver disease. If you have a spider angioma, it’s smart to get a vein specialist to examine it.  

What Causes Spider Veins?

Spider veins develop when the vein walls weaken. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes this to happen. In the legs, it may be the result of weakening valves that keep blood from flowing down with gravity, instead of up toward the heart. 

Many factors can cause the weakening of the leg veins. These include:

  • Sitting or standing for long periods: This is especially concerning if you do it for more than four consecutive hours.
  • Excess body weight: Being heavier may also cause spider veins.
  • Pregnancy: The condition causes not only more pressure on the lower body but also increased circulation.
  • Hormonal birth control or hormone therapy for menopause: Both can weaken the valves in the leg veins.
  • Older age: Vein walls may weaken over time and make you more susceptible to spider veins.
  • Gender: Spider veins are more common in women.

Spider veins may also develop in the face when the blood vessels swell or burst. This can happen for several reasons, including:

  • Sun damage: This can enlarge and lift the veins.
  • Exposure to pollutants: Skin damage from this could make blood vessels easier to see.
  • Dramatic weather changes: Natural conditions like this can affect your circulation.
  • Changes in pressure: Examples of causes are intense sneezing or a vomiting spell.
  • Frequent alcohol consumption: This weakens your blood vessels.
  • Head injuries: Conditions like these may cause bruising.

Family history also plays a significant role in whether or not you’re likely to develop varicose or spider veins. Studies show that 90% of people with spider veins have a family history of the condition. 

Are Spider Veins Bad?

Spider veins aren’t harmful in and of themselves. In some cases, though, spider veins can indicate other conditions likevaricose veins.

The Link Between Spider Veins and Varicose Veins

This doesn’t mean that spider veins cause varicose veins. 

Imagine the correlation as similar to a fracture that worsens because you walk on it. If you see spider veins in your legs, they can be a sign that your veins are weakening or damaged. That damage may become more severe if left untreated.

Complications Arising From Varicose Veins 

Many spider veins never turn into varicose veins, and many varicose veins never turn into anything worse. In rare cases, however, people with varicose veins may develop certain complications. These include:

  • Bleeding: This is often due to an injury to the weakened vein or the skin that covers it.
  • Sores or skin ulcers: These can develop from the collection of blood in the veins.
  • Superficial blood clots: Complications like this form in the veins immediately below the skin and can cause redness, pain, and swelling.
  • Venous eczema: Also called gravitational dermatitis or stasis dermatitis, this causes symptoms like ankle swelling, skin discoloration, itchiness, and a feeling of heaviness or achiness in the affected leg.
  • Deep vein blood clots: Apart from pain and swelling, it can feel as if something is pulling in the affected leg.

Deeper blood clots can be serious, but they’re uncommon in people with varicose veins and not associated with spider veins.

When Should You See a Doctor About Your Spider Veins?

From a medical perspective, spider veins rarely need a doctor’s care. The main problems they pose are cosmetic. 

It’s up to you whether you want to seek aesthetic treatment for your spider veins. You always have the option to consult with a vein specialist about what treatments might be available to you, and what kind of results you can expect.

Lifestyle Changes to Manage Spider Veins

Many people find that their spider veins improve with simple lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Exercising to strengthen leg muscles and improve circulation
  • Avoiding sitting or standing still for long periods
  • Reducing salt intake
  • Keeping body weight under control
  • Avoiding clothing that fits too tightly
  • Limiting alcohol intake

If your spider veins don’t improve enough with at-home treatments, you can always seek out a physician’s care. 

Spider Vein Treatments Your Doctor May Suggest

Several procedures can reduce or eliminate the appearance of spider veins:

  • Sclerotherapy: This involves injecting a special solution into the affected vein. The solution causes the vein to seal, blocking the blood flow. Surrounding blood vessels take over that pathway and the diseased veins gradually start to disappear.
  • Intense Pulse Light (IPL) treatment: The process causes the vein to break up and allow for natural reabsorption in your body. This treatment is non-invasive.
  • Microwave technology: Several branded treatments, including VeinGogh and Veinwave, use microwave pulses to heat and seal spider veins. The precision of the treatment minimizes the risk to surrounding tissue and makes the treatment more effective.

Looking for a Vascular Specialist in Your Area?

If you have concerns about your spider veins — even if it’s “just” a cosmetic concern — consider going to a vein specialist. My Vein Treatment’s specialist locator tool can find a helpful and knowledgeable expert near you. 

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