What causes them to appear?
In a few weeks, you’ll be going on vacation, and you can’t wait to get to the sunny island to enjoy some time on the beach. You’re at the store trying on some new clothes to take with you and notice that there are many small veins on your legs that are more visible than before. What are they? Is it a sign of something wrong? Will they go away?
Spider veins (thread veins) are small, damaged veins that usually appear on the surface of the legs but can also occur on the face. They can be blue, purple, or red and might look like thin lines, webs, or branches that are usually flat but can be slightly raised. Typically, they’re painless.
Spider veins result from the valves within the veins not working correctly. Veins are supposed to carry blood back to the heart. To help them do this, they have one-way valves that close once the blood passes through. If the valves are damaged or weakened, the blood has a hard time going in the right direction. The result is that it pools inside the vein, which over time causes the vein to bulge and branch out causing spider veins. Spider veins on the face are from tiny blood vessels bursting, increased pressure within the vein, or sun damage.
Varicose veins are caused by the same problem as spider veins (venous insufficiency), but they’re larger and deeper. Often, they appear lumpy or twisted and are red or flesh-colored. You might also have pain, itching, bleeding, swelling of the legs or ankles, or an achy or heavy feeling in the legs. It’s vital to note that varicose veins may also increase your risk of blood clots and circulation problems.
Several things can increase your chances of developing spider veins. Genetics can play a significant role because up to 90% of people with spider veins have a family history of them. Since valves in veins tend to get weaker over time, your risk level increases as you age. Women are more likely than men to develop spider veins, especially during pregnancy or if they take hormonal birth control or menopause treatments. If you’re overweight, this places added pressure on your leg veins, elevating your risk. Sitting or standing for extended periods also results in higher chances. If you have had a previous blood clot or vein damage, it can make them unable to work correctly. Spider veins on the face can occur when excess pressure is present, such as forceful coughing, sneezing, or vomiting. Ultraviolet light from the sun can damage the skin and cause broken blood vessels or spider veins, especially on the face.
Spider veins rarely need treatment. However, some people choose to have them removed for cosmetic reasons. The good news is that there are several ways to do this. The first step is to improve blood flow and prevent further spider (or varicose) veins from occurring. Compression stockings can not only help with this, but they can also help relieve leg swelling and decrease your risk for blood clots in your legs. There are three types. Support pantyhose provide only light pressure and are available in most stores. Gradient compression stockings offer medium pressure. They’re available from specialist stores and pharmacies. Prescription compression stockings provide the most pressure to the feet and legs and come in various sizes and strengths as well as footless varieties. They’re not suitable for some people, including those who have heart failure or other heart problems.
The next phase of treatment involves getting rid of the spider veins. The first option is sclerotherapy, which involves injecting an irritant directly into the affected vein. This causes the walls of the vein to become irritated, resulting in them sticking together, thus keeping blood from flowing into the area. Over time, the spider vein fades or vanishes. It’s vital to point out that several treatments may be necessary to obtain the desired results. Closure system treatment also involves injecting a substance into the affected veins. However, the substance is sticky, which closes the vein off from blood flow. As with sclerotherapy, you may need several treatments. Neither procedure requires anesthesia, and you’ll need to wear compression stockings for several days or weeks after.
Another option if your spider veins are smaller than 3 millimeters and close to the skin’s surface is to use a laser. The laser is a strong, focused beam of light that causes the spider vein to clot and dry up. Since there’s no injection, laser treatments are less invasive than sclerotherapy or closure system. Endovenous laser therapy (EVLT) is a newer procedure for treating spider veins and small varicose veins. It involves making a small incision in the affected vein and then inserting a laser fiber, which applies heat directly to the vein and causes it to collapse. Keep in mind that the vein may take several months or up to a year to go away. EVLT does use local anesthesia.
You can do many things to prevent spider veins from occurring or getting worse. One of the first is to wear sunscreen regularly, particularly on your face. Also, use sun-protective hats and clothing when outdoors for extended periods. Maintaining a healthy weight is key because it helps reduce pressure on the veins. Consider using compression stockings or socks if spider veins or varicose veins are a concern or run in your family. Be sure to avoid sitting or standing for extended periods without taking a break. Set a timer to get up and walk around every 30 minutes. Also, raising your legs when sitting or lying down can help prevent blood pooling. Avoid tight clothing because it can restrict blood flow if it’s too tight around the waist, legs, or pelvis. Don’t overuse hot tubs and saunas since excessive heat can cause veins to swell. Limit alcohol consumption since this affects your entire cardiovascular system. Regular exercise can help improve circulation and prevent blood from pooling in the legs. If you have a skin condition that can increase your risk of getting spider veins, such as rosacea, you may want to consider seeing a dermatologist to discuss treatment options. If the appearance of spider veins is bothersome, you can use body/leg makeup and self-tanning products to mask or minimize them temporarily.
While you may not like the look of spider veins, it’s comforting to know that they don’t usually cause any significant issues. If you have any questions or concerns about spider veins, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Women’s Health’s Varicose Veins and Spider Veins page at https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/varicose-veins-and-spider-veins