Spider veins are a common condition affecting many adults, especially women. The pain management doctors at the Novus Spine & Pain Center vein clinic treat patients with spider veins to reduce risk factors of developing varicose veins while improving the visual appearance.
Spider veins are also known as spider telangiectasias (a chronic dilatation of the capillaries and other small blood vessels). Spider veins are smaller than varicose veins. Varicose veins are large, raised, swollen blood vessels that twist and turn. Both spider veins and varicose veins are easily visible through the skin and can result in more serious health conditions such as skin ulcers, phlebitis, and blood clots.
Spider veins, a mild type of varicose veins, result from the dilation (enlargement) of a group of small blood vessels that are visible through the surface of the skin. They often look like a red, blue, or purple sunburst (“spider web”). Spider veins and varicose veins are sometimes located together. They are typically visible on the legs and face, just under the skin, but can appear anywhere on the body.
Spider veins are very common, especially in people over the age of 50. Although they usually pose no health hazard, they may produce a dull aching in the legs after prolonged standing and could be an indication of a more severe venous disease.
An estimated 25 percent of the adults in the U.S. have some form of a varicose vein condition, including spider veins. The incidence of venous disease increases in older women, with slightly more women having spider veins than men.
What Causes Spider Veins?
The exact cause of spider veins is unknown; however, heredity, pregnancy, trauma, aging, sun damage, and hormonal influences are believed to be contributing factors.
Spider veins are the result of blood vessel structural abnormalities. Veins carry blood back to the heart from other parts of the body, utilizing a series of one-way valves to avoid the backflow of blood. For a variety of reasons, these valves can become defective. When the valves don’t work properly, blood backs up in the veins, causing an increase in pressure. The pressure allows a weakening of the blood vessel wall, and the vein enlarges (dilates).
Several factors predispose a person to spider veins. These include:
A history of blood clots.
Conditions that cause increased pressure in the abdomen, such as tumors, constipation, and externally worn garments that are tight or restrictive (like girdles).
Exposure to the sun and ultraviolet rays (especially in light-skinned people).
Hormonal influences during pregnancy, puberty, and menopause.
Postmenopausal hormonal replacement.
The use of birth control pills.
Occupations that involve a lot of standing, such as nurses, hairstylists, teachers, and factory workers.
Pregnancy; however, spider veins usually fade after childbirth.
Previous vein surgery.
Trauma or injury to the skin.
What Are the Symptoms of Spider Veins?
Spider veins often have no symptoms or signs other than an undesirable cosmetic appearance. However, spider veins can sometimes trigger swelling, throbbing, and restless legs. In some cases, they may become painful and result in skin sores or blood clots. These symptoms often worsen after prolonged sitting or standing. Individuals can also develop skin discoloration and skin ulcers.
The most obvious sign of spider veins is their web-like appearance on the skin. These veins can be red, blue, or purple. Other symptoms include:
An uncomfortable feeling in the legs.
Throbbing, cramping, or aching.
Itching around the veins.
Though spider veins rarely cause serious complications, some individuals may develop skin ulcers. These open wounds usually appear on the lower leg and can lead to soft tissue infections. Therefore, it is important to seek medical attention if:
The veins are warm to the touch and very tender.
The veins cause pain.
If sores, rashes, or ulcers develop on the skin.
The spider veins bleed.
How Are Spider Veins Diagnosed?
A health care professional can diagnose spider veins by carefully examining the affected areas. For example, the doctor may want to examine the legs while the patient is seated and while standing. The exam will consist of a visual inspection and palpation (touching) of the areas of concern. Particular attention will be given to areas of redness, swelling, skin discoloration, and skin ulcers.
In addition, a doctor will want to know the patient’s medical history, including any:
Recent illnesses or existing medical conditions, such as a heart condition or history of blood clots.
Medications or supplements the patient takes, especially aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), blood thinners, or herbal supplements.
Previous treatment for spider veins or varicose veins, and the results of that treatment.
In addition to a physical exam and a complete medical history, the doctor may order a diagnostic test to examine blood flow or check for blood clots. These can include:
Duplex ultrasound. This is a type of vascular ultrasound to check blood flow and the structure of the veins. (Duplex means two types of ultrasound are used.)
Color-flow imaging (also called triplex ultrasound). This is a procedure similar to duplex ultrasound using color to show the direction of blood flow.
Venogram. This is an X-ray test that involves injecting dye into a vein to create an image of how blood flows in the veins.
Magnetic resonance venography (MRV). This is a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets and a computer to view the veins. Dye is injected into the veins to see them better.
How Are Spider Veins Treated?
Most spider veins do not require treatment; however, many patients seek treatment for cosmetic reasons. Untreated, spider veins may develop into varicose veins. Both spider veins and varicose veins can lead to serious health complications such as fatigue, night cramps, leg swelling, or itching around certain veins. Not everybody with spider veins has pain or other symptoms. Medical treatment may not be necessary if there are no symptoms.
Aside from professional treatment, there is no proven way to reduce the appearance of spider veins. However, various home treatments can help alleviate some of the symptoms. Often, conservative measures help prevent potential complications.
Conservative, non-medical treatments for spider veins include:
Compression stockings. Properly fitted, graduated, elastic support stockings help the veins direct the blood back toward the heart. In addition to improving circulation, the extra pressure from compression stockings often helps relieve discomfort.
Keep active. Activities such as walking, cycling, and swimming help maintain proper blood circulation in the legs and reduce pressure and blood pooling.
Avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time. Remaining in one position for an extended period of time can place pressure on leg veins. Change positions at least every 30 minutes to increase blood flow. Flex calf muscles frequently to keep up circulation while sitting at a desk or during long car or plane trips.
Avoid overly restrictive clothing. Clothing around specific body parts – including the waist, legs, and groin area – can restrict circulation and lead to spider veins and varicose veins.
Don’t subject legs to excessive heat. The heat associated with long, hot baths can increase vein swelling and lead to blood pooling.
Maintain a healthy weight. Reducing body weight eliminates excess pressure on the legs that causes veins in the legs to surface.
Elevate legs. Raising the feet above the level of the heart 3 or 4 times a day for about 15 minutes at a time will help reduce leg swelling and relieve other symptoms of spider and varicose veins.
Sometimes, home treatment of spider veins may not yield a satisfactory result. More specialized medical procedures may be available in these cases, depending on the location and size of the spider veins. These medical procedures include:
Sclerotherapy. In this outpatient procedure, the doctor injects the veins with a solution that closes them, causing the blood to reroute through healthier veins. In a few weeks, treated spider veins no longer carry blood and fade away.
Laser Therapy. Laser therapy uses a focused beam of light that heats and damages the affected blood vessel, which eventually fades. It is sometimes used as a complement to sclerotherapy to maximize results.
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) therapy. This treatment uses a high-powered, computer-controlled flashgun to deliver an intense pulse of light that destroys spider veins that are then reabsorbed into the body.
Specific treatment for spider veins is based on:
The patient’s age, overall health, and medical history.
The extent of the spider veins.
The patient’s specific signs and symptoms.
The patient’s expectations for the outcome.
Treatments for spider veins are generally safe and effective when performed at a certified vein clinic.
Is It Possible to Prevent Spider Veins?
Although spider veins and varicose veins may not always be entirely preventable, there are various measures one can take to reduce the chances of developing them. Prevention tips include:
Maintain a healthy weight.
Avoid prolonged sitting or standing.
Avoid crossing legs while seated.
Elevate legs when resting.
Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing around the waist, groin, and legs.
Avoid wearing high heel shoes.
Spider veins are generally not a serious health issue. Available treatments at the Novus Spine & Pain Center Vein Clinic are highly successful. Unfortunately, new spider veins can form as you age.
Novus Spine & Pain Center
Novus Spine & Pain Center vein clinic in Lakeland, Florida, specializes in treating spider veins. Using a comprehensive approach and cutting-edge therapies, we work together with patients to restore function and regain an active lifestyle.