What Are the Signs of Varicose Veins and Spider Veins?

female legs with varicose veins on the beach

Table of Contents

  • Understanding Spider Veins
  • Understanding Varicose Veins
  • Finding a Vein Specialist

If you think you might have spider veins or varicose veins, you’re not alone. Research shows that about 23% of all adults in the U.S. have varicose veins, and when you add spider veins into the picture, that percentage shoots up to between 80% and 85%.

Varicose and spider veins both develop due to blood vessel damage, often in the legs.  Spider veins are smaller and more subtle, while varicose veins are raised and may cause some degree of physical discomfort.

Not sure if you have symptoms of varicose veins or spider veins? Maybe you’re wondering if you’re at risk of getting either. Below, you’ll find all you need to know.

Understanding Spider Veins

Spider veins, also called thread veins, often develop on the legs but may also appear on the face, hands, or forearms. 

What Do Spider Veins Look Like?

Spider veins are red or bluish-purple blood vessels that appear just below the surface of the skin. Their twisted and tangled appearance can make them look much like spider webs, a resemblance that gives spider veins their name.

What Are the Risk Factors of Developing Spider Veins?

Some people are more likely than others to develop spider veins. You may be more prone to getting them if you:

  • Are older. The risk of spider veins and varicose veins increases with age. That said, you can develop spider veins at any age — some people noticing them before the age of 20.
  • Carry extra weight. People who are overweight or obese, along with pregnant women, experience more pressure in the legs. That pressure can weaken the vein walls.
  • Cough, sneeze, or vomit forcefully. Excess pressure in the face can cause blood vessel damage and lead to spider veins.
  • Have experienced sun damage. Sun exposure can damage the blood vessels, especially in the face, causing spider veins.
  • Have relatives with spider veins. Research shows that 90% of people with spider veins have a family history of the condition.
  • Sit or stand for extended periods. When you’re in the same physical position for a long time, your leg veins have to work harder to pump blood back to the heart. 

Women — not just those who are pregnant — are also more likely to develop spider veins and varicose veins.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Spider Veins? 

Most people don’t experience any physical sensations from spider veins. You’re much more likely to notice their cosmetic appearance.

When Should You See a Doctor Because of Spider Veins?

Spider veins aren’t dangerous to your health. You could go your entire life with spider veins and never need to see a doctor about them, but some people choose to get medical treatment for cosmetic reasons.

If your spider veins are making you self-conscious, you might consider seeing a vein specialist and discuss treatment options.

Understanding Varicose Veins

Varicose veins develop due to vein damage, most commonly in the legs. Common causes are increased venous pressure and a weakening of the valves that keep blood flowing to the heart from the feet.

What Do Varicose Veins Look Like?

Varicose veins are twisted, raised veins that are blue or bluish-purple. They often appear twisted or tangled, like a twist of blue rope under the skin.

What Are the Risk Factors of Developing Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins have many of the same risk factors as spider veins, including:

  • Age
  • Extra weight
  • Extended sitting or standing
  • Family history
  • Gender

For women, hormone-based therapies may also be a risk. Research has shown that taking hormonal birth control or menopausal hormone therapy can contribute to the development of varicose veins.

What Are the Early Warning Signs of Varicose Veins?

When you develop varicose veins, there are often warning signs before the twisted and raised veins start to show from under your skin:

  • Aching or itchy legs. If your legs ache or cramp after you’ve been walking, or if your legs itch, it may be a sign of poor circulation.
  • Change in skin pigmentation or texture. Before varicose veins appear, some people notice a new shininess or different coloration in the skin on their legs.
  • Swollen feet and ankles. Poor circulation can also often leave your feet and ankles swollen at the end of the day.
  • Red spots on the lower leg. These spots can show up if blood is pooling in the veins of your lower leg, or if your leg vein walls are getting weaker.
  • Visible veins. Darker or more prominent leg veins may be the first indication of swelling or weakening vein walls.
What Are Symptoms and Sensations Attributed to Varicose Veins?

There are many symptoms associated with varicose veins. Because swollen veins can activate nearby nerves, you may notice generalized itching or pain in the affected leg. Some people also report strange sensations that feel like water dripping down the leg or bugs crawling on the skin.

Other symptoms and sensations associated with the condition include:

  • A heavy feeling in the legs
  • Aching or throbbing legs
  • Nighttime leg cramps
  • Swollen feet and ankles

Many people find that their varicose vein symptoms are worse when they sit or stand for long periods. Lying down with the feet elevated can help.

When Should You See a Doctor Because of Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins usually aren’t dangerous to your overall health, but if your symptoms interfere with daily activities, you may decide to seek medical treatment. 

Some rare complications may develop due to varicose veins. They’re usually not serious, but it’s smart to see a doctor if you notice any of the following:

  • A change in skin color on the ankle or calf
  • A vein that’s swollen, red, or tender to the touch
  • Bleeding from a varicose vein
  • New sores or rash on the affected leg

Finding a Vein Specialist

If you’re ready to see a doctor about your varicose veins, My Vein Specialist’s locator tool can help. Talk with a vein specialist about whether you have symptoms of varicose veins or spider veins and what treatment options are available.

Find a vein specialist