What are spider veins?
Spider veins are a common condition where blood vessels under the skin appear as red, blue, or purple webs or clusters of thin, squiggly lines. They are usually harmless, but many people choose to remove them to have clearer skin.
Spider veins occur when small valves inside your veins have trouble pushing blood to your heart, which can cause blood to pool inside the vein instead of flowing through it. That pooled blood creates the discoloration of spider veins visible through the skin. Groups of spider veins can look like a bruise or spider web.
Your legs are the most common part of your body for spider veins to appear, but they can also develop on your face and other areas. They don’t cause much swelling — the skin around them stays flat or only slightly raised. Larger versions of spider veins, called varicose veins, can also develop and bulge underneath the skin instead of remaining flat.
Spider veins usually aren’t dangerous or painful, but they can cause aching and soreness. Sometimes, they are a sign of more serious underlying conditions.
Spider veins are more likely to appear based on these factors:
- Gender. Women develop spider veins more often than men. Pregnant women are also at higher risk of developing varicose veins, since more blood needs to flow through the body while carrying a baby, putting extra stress on the veins.
- Family history. Up to 90% of people with spider veins also have family members with the condition, which suggests that it runs in families.
- Age. The likelihood of developing spider veins increases with age, and they occur in over 41% of women over age 50.
- Activity level. Jobs that require you to be on your feet for long periods of time, like waiting tables or nursing, or those where you are sitting for a long time, can increase the likelihood of developing spider veins. Staying in one position for a long time can tighten the veins in your legs, causing them to weaken over time.
- Obesity. Spider veins and other vein issues are more common in people who are obese.
- Sunlight. Sunlight may damage certain tissues in your body that support and keep veins in place.
Diagnosis for spider veins
A doctor can examine and diagnose spider veins. Rarely, certain formations of spider veins are symptoms of more serious vein diseases and other illnesses.
Treatments for spider veins
You can't remove spider veins with over-the-counter or prescribed pills, creams, or gels. Other at-home or medical treatments for spider veins can reduce or remove them.
Home remedies and treatments
Compression socks or stockings help blood flow more easily through your legs. Wearing them regularly may help prevent more spider veins from developing. These socks can be different strengths, from over-the-counter light pressure socks to prescription-strength stockings, which can only be prescribed by a doctor.
Exercise and weight loss can help prevent spider veins. Engaging the muscles in your legs helps push blood up through them and avoid pooling. Losing weight can also relieve your legs of extra downward pressure that makes it harder for the blood to travel up your veins.
A few studies have shown that horse chestnut seed extract may also help reduce the symptoms and development of spider veins, but this treatment needs more research to determine its effectiveness.
One of the most common spider vein removal procedures is laser treatment. For these treatments, a surgical-grade laser above your skin targets your spider veins causing them to dissolve. You may need more than one laser treatment session to completely remove the appearance of spider veins, depending on their size.
Another professional treatment to remove spider veins is sclerotherapy. A small chemical injection goes directly into the spider vein, which makes its sides stick together and block blood flow. Blood then re-routes to healthier veins nearby, and the injected vein eventually fades.
Risks and side effects of spider veins treatments
Compression socks aren’t safe for everyone. They may cause injury to the skin or nerves if they’re not worn properly, putting uneven pressure on your legs.
Unlike sclerotherapy, laser therapy doesn’t break your skin, but it may cause infection, burns, bruising, bleeding, nerve damage, skin discoloration, and other side effects. Sclerotherapy has similar risks, including allergic reaction to the chemical injection.
Check with your doctor before choosing any spider vein removal treatment to evaluate your risks and find what’s best for you.
Skin and Beauty Resources
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American Family Physician: “Varicose Veins: Diagnosis and Treatment.”
American Society for Dermatologic Surgery: “Spider Veins.”
British Journal of General Practice: “Side effects of compression stockings: A case report.”
Circulation: “Varicose Veins.”
Circulation Foundation: “Veins.”
Cochrane Library: “Treatment for telangiectasias and reticular veins.”
Columbia Vascular Surgery: "Sclerotherapy for Vein Disease.”
Healthy Women: “Varicose Veins.”
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Endovenous Laser Varicose Vein Surgery.”
National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health: “Horse Chestnut.”
Office on Women’s Health: "Varicose veins and spider veins.”
VeinDirectory.org: “Can Sun Exposure Make Your Spider Veins Worse?”