Spider Veins Overview
What Are Spider Veins?
Spider veins occur just beneath the skin’s surface, typically on the calves, thighs, or ankles. Their name comes from the shape of the discolorations, which are typically thin clusters of red, blue, or purple veins that branch out in several directions. Most often, they’re caused by underlying venous insufficiency in the deeper veins. Although they are often harmless, they may signal vein disease or poor circulation.
What Causes Spider Veins?
Leg veins are responsible for pumping blood back to the heart once it has delivered oxygen throughout the body. This essential task is complicated by working against gravity to reach the destination. Sometimes, poor circulation in deeper veins impairs this process through a condition called chronic venous insufficiency. The deep veins are tasked with transporting the majority of blood, however the veins just below the surface (superficial) share the task. For this to occur seamlessly, valves in the vein must close once the blood has passed through. But certain factors cause those valves to weaken or break, which allows blood to accumulate and flow back down toward your feet, creating tremendous pressure on the vein walls. To compensate, spider veins form to offset the pressure and excess blood.
If you’re bothered by your spider veins, you aren’t alone. Over half of women in the U.S. develop spider veins, and they’re twice as common in women than men. Many people have no symptoms with spider veins and are mainly bothered by their appearance. But some patients experience significant issues with leg heaviness, restless legs, fatigue, swelling, cramps, and superficial pain. These symptoms are amplified by inactivity or maintaining a stationary position for long periods. Exercise promotes robust circulation, minimizing the discomfort of spider veins.
Who Is at Risk for Spider Veins?
Spider veins, or “thread veins” are primarily seen in adults. The older we get, the greater our risk is of developing these unhealthy veins. But there are additional factors that increase the likelihood of spider veins. Pregnancy, completion of menopause, obesity, hormone supplementation, stationary jobs, leg injuries, birth control usage, and blood clots all contribute to spider vein development. Gender is of particular significance (estrogen levels impact circulation, causing more women to develop spider veins). However, genetic predisposition plays the largest role, with a family history of spider veins being the greatest predictor.
What Causes Spider Veins?
The vascular disease called chronic venous insufficiency is often the reason spider veins form. As pressure builds inside the veins, spider veins proliferate and increase in size unless addressed. While spider veins are sometimes asymptomatic, they’re an important signal of leaky veins beneath the surface.
What Are the Symptoms of Spider Veins?
Most patients find the appearance of spider veins to be the biggest issue. However, the vein disease that often creates these veins causes a range of uncomfortable symptoms including achiness, throbbing, itchiness, tingling, heaviness, cramping, and burning sensations near the veins. A patient with severe venous insufficiency might also experience chronic ulcerations and discolored skin.
How Do Doctors Treat Spider Veins?
See our California vein specialists to determine what type of treatment your spider veins require. Some spider veins signal advanced vein disease that warrants deeper investigation, while others can be treated at the surface to eliminate their appearance. Our San Diego vein doctors have gentle treatments like sclerotherapy that eradicate spider veins within minutes.
What Is the Best Treatment for Spider Veins?
The first step in selecting spider vein treatment is always to seek a thorough vein evaluation. While spider veins, themselves, are often harmless, the reasons behind them can be serious. In addition, if you don’t treat the underlying condition causing spider veins, they’ll simply continue to form. Our certified and accredited vein center provides comprehensive care for lifelong vascular health.
One of the most common methods for treating spider veins is sclerotherapy. This quick, minimally invasive treatment is performed right in your doctor’s office for same-day relief without downtime or anesthesia. Our vein doctors inject a sclerosant into the damaged vein that causes it to close, banishing the unsightly vein in an instant.
Endovenous ablation comes in several forms, one of which is radiofrequency ablation (RF). Like its counterpart, laser ablation, RF uses energy to destroy spider veins. But the thermal energy it employs is more comfortable and causes less bruising in patients than the light energy of laser ablation.
Patients have long awaited a better alternative to vein stripping surgery. Laser treatment supplants surgery with its greater ease and better safety record, as well as its outpatient format that eliminates general anesthesia and downtime.
For patients troubled by the cosmetic aspect of spider veins, laser therapy can be used in place of or in addition to sclerotherapy. This technology allows our CA vein doctors to optimize aesthetic results of superficial veins. Always choose a board-certified vein doctor for this treatment, since some skin types are sensitive to laser therapy, and it won’t heal deeper venous issues.
One of the best things you can do to prevent spider veins and alleviate symptoms is to exercise every day. Since exercise enhances our leg muscles’ ability to pump blood efficiently, we reduce the chance of blood pooling and creating pressure in our leg veins. It’s important to periodically stand up and walk around, if your job involves prolonged sitting. And if you’re required to stand for long periods in your profession, be sure to take breaks to improve blood flow. When seated or sleeping, elevate your legs above heart level to prevent swelling and aid your leg veins in their work against gravity. While exercise won’t erase current spider veins, it will relieve symptoms and prevent new spider veins from developing.
Another home treatment for spider veins is wearing support or compression stockings selected by your vein doctor. It’s essential to be properly fitted for stockings by your doctor, since sizing impacts efficacy. These are particularly helpful in relieving the swelling, heaviness, and cramping caused by spider veins. The compression they apply assists blood flow to the heart and relieves pressure in the veins. Compression stockings won’t eliminate current spider veins, but they’ll reduce the uncomfortable symptoms.