Spider veins and varicose veins: They’re common but unsightly, often uncomfortable but harmless. However, they can indicate a more serious circulatory issue.
Spider veins, otherwise known as telangiectasia, are clusters of small blood veins close to the skin that give a spider web appearance and are generally red or blue in color. Although their appearance may be concerning, they are generally harmless. However, they can be responsible for minor discomfort — especially for individuals who spend long periods of time standing.
Varicose veins differ from spider veins in that they are larger and appear to twist and bulge under the skin. Symptoms of varicose veins range from mild discomfort to aching, burning, throbbing and itchy veins, to superficial thrombophlebitis (blood clot) or, rarely, rupture and bleeding.
“Varicose veins are larger bulging veins as a result of valve dysfunction within the vein, resulting in venous insufficiency, or an inability to properly transmit blood back to the heart, leaving blood to pool in the legs,” says Dr. Patrick Cook, a vascular surgeon affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital.
What causes spider veins
Spider veins are the result of hormonal influences during pregnancy, puberty and menopause; prior minor trauma; lifestyles that require long periods of time standing; and heredity. They can also be a symptom of an underlying vascular issue, such as venous insufficiency.
What causes varicose veins
Like spider veins, there is a familial component with varicose veins, but they can also result from hormonal influences, pregnancy and long periods of time on your feet. When the valves inside your veins become incompetent and “break,” the vein is placed under increased pressure resulting in dilation, tortuosity and the symptoms above.
Treatment for spider veins
Treatment options for spider veins include sclerotherapy, which is an injection into the small veins that causes the veins to scar and close. Over time this results in fading of the veins. A second option is laser treatment of the spider vein, which also causes the veins to fade over time.
“These procedures generally require repeat interventions and that is why it is important to have a thorough clinical and ultrasound examination to evaluate for deep venous incompetence,” says Dr. Cook.
Treatment for varicose veins
Conservative management of varicose veins begins with leg elevation, compression socks, exercise and weight loss. There are a variety of interventions for venous insufficiency, which include laser and radio-frequency catheter ablation, sclerotherapy and newer techniques to “glue” the incompetent superficial veins closed.
“Again it is important to have both a clinical and ultrasound examination by a qualified physician that manages venous disease prior to intervention,” says Dr. Cook. Patients experiencing leg aches or throbbing pain should talk with their doctor.
Those at higher risk for varicose veins can help prevent or minimize them with lifestyle adjustments, including wearing compression socks or stockings, elevating the legs at night and exercising regularly.