“What are spider veins? Do I have them? What do spider veins look like?”
When you start to see blood vessels under your skin in places where you couldn’t see them before, questions like these often spring to mind. Maybe you’ve heard the term “spider veins” or know someone who’s had them. It’s not uncommon. Some experts estimate that up to 80% of men and 85% of women have spider veins or varicose veins, a common related condition.
If you have spider veins, don’t worry. These damaged blood vessels are usually harmless, though some people may choose to get treatment for aesthetic reasons. To know whether treatment is right for you, it’s important to know what spider veins are — and aren’t.
Spider Veins vs. Varicose Veins: What’s the Difference?
Both varicose and spider veins can develop on the legs, but spider veins tend to be much smaller and are less likely to be painful. If you have varicose veins, you might notice that they make your legs feel heavy, tired, achy, or itchy. Varicose veins also swell more severely and appear raised.
Spider veins, by definition, look like threads under your skin. Clinically known as telangiectasias, they are smaller and often less visibly obvious than varicose veins. The webbing can be red, purple, or blue — but they don’t change the skin’s texture, and they’re rarely uncomfortable. Unlike varicose veins, they may appear on the feet, ankles, or face.
What Causes Spider Veins?
It’s hard for scientists to pinpoint exactly what causes spider veins.
On the legs, spider veins may result from damage to the small valves that keep your blood flowing toward the heart and against gravity. If these valves become weak or damaged, blood will start to pool in the vein as it tries to flow in both directions. In time, the extra blood volume makes the vein walls weaken, causing the discoloration that you can see under the skin.
Not all spider veins result from valve damage. Spider veins on the face, for example, result from other kinds of damage to the blood vessels. Common contributing factors include sun damage, long-term alcohol consumption, and exposure to environmental irritants.
Women are more prone to getting spider veins, in part due to changes during pregnancy and menopause. The extra weight of carrying a fetus, combined with increased blood flow associated with pregnancy, can put more strain on the veins. As women hit menopause, the hormone estrogen may weaken the valves in leg veins, raising the risk of spider veins or varicose veins.
Several other factors can make you more likely to develop spider veins, including:
- Family history: Up to 90% of patients with spider veins have close relatives who have or have had spider veins.
- Age: Although as many as two-thirds of people with spider veins develop them before the age of 25, they are more common in older age groups — because veins weaken over time.
- Extra weight: Studies have shown that people who are overweight have more vein problems in the legs and feet, due to the added pressure.
- Extended sitting or standing: When you sit or stand for long periods, particularly for more than four hours, your veins have to work harder to pump blood back to the heart. This can cause the valves to wear out faster.
- Vein-related medical conditions: If you have blood clots in your legs or a condition that causes vein scarring, you may be more likely to develop spider veins.
- Internal pressure: If you have chronic constipation or abdominal tumors, or if you regularly wear constricting garments, the increased pressure on the abdomen may increase your risk of spider veins in the legs.
What Are the Symptoms?
Although most spider veins don’t cause any symptoms, some people notice a slight muted discomfort or burning.
What Are Spider Veins’ Negative Health Effects?
Spider veins are generally harmless. They usually won’t affect your overall physical health and aren’t known to definitively cause other conditions. However, spider veins can be an early sign of weakened or damaged veins — which, in turn, can lead to other issues like varicose veins.
In very rare cases, spider veins may be a sign of an underlying disease.
Are They Reversible?
Some spider veins, such as those caused by pregnancy, may disappear on their own after a few months. Spider veins may also be permanent if left alone, but some treatments can help.
Can You Treat Them at Home?
If you know what spider veins are and want to avoid them, there are several things you can do to slow or even prevent their development. These habits include:
- Exercising your legs regularly
- Breaking up sedentary or standing work with regular walking breaks
- Eating a healthy diet
- Wearing compression stockings
Low-impact and calf-strengthening exercises are some of the best physical activities to add to your routine, should you have an elevated risk of getting spider veins.
What Medical Treatments Are Available?
Sclerotherapy is generally considered to be the most effective type of spider vein treatment. It’s a minimally invasive procedure involving the injection of a specialized solution called a sclerosant.
The solution causes the blood vessels to shrink and the spider veins to collapse. Surrounding blood vessels take over the blood flow in the area and the spider vein tissue fades away. Many people see results in three to six weeks.
Other spider vein treatments include:
- Laser light treatment: This process uses targeted light beams to heat the affected veins and break them down. As with sclerotherapy, the damaged blood vessels break down in the body and the healthy veins take over.
- Microwave technology: Treatment systems like VeinGogh use advanced microwave energy to deliver just the right amount of heat to the affected blood vessels, clearing up spider veins.
Does Insurance Cover Treatment?
Because spider veins don’t cause any physical symptoms and aren’t a danger to your health, insurance companies consider their treatment to be cosmetic. You usually can’t get insurance coverage for cosmetic issues.
Finding Medical Help for Spider Veins
Because you’ll pay out of pocket for your spider vein treatments, you have a broad choice of providers. If you’d like to see a specialist about your spider veins, My Vein Treatment’s vein specialist locator tool can help. Check out your options today.