What Causes Spider Veins on Legs?

Reviewed on 1/12/2021

What are spider veins?

Spider veins are often caused by normal aging, wear-and-tear, and changing hormones. Sun damage or injury may also cause spider veins.
Spider veins are often caused by normal aging, wear-and-tear, and changing hormones. Sun damage or injury may also cause spider veins.

Spider veins are small clusters of dilated or broken veins that are visible under your skin. The technical term for spider veins is telangiectasia, but they take their more familiar name from their appearance. They often resemble tiny webs or tree branches.

Spider veins most frequently appear on your legs but can also show up on your face, forearms, or hands. They are most commonly reddish but can also be blue or purple, and they often whiten when you press on them.

Unlike varicose veins, another type of damaged vein that often appears on your legs, spider veins do not create ropy bulges under the skin. Spider veins are smaller and threadlike.

While many otherwise healthy people get spider veins, spider veins can occasionally be a sign of a more serious underlying condition. However, these spider veins typically appear on your face and around your fingernails and toenails rather than on your legs.

Women are more susceptible than men to spider veins. They are rarely painful but can make people feel self-conscious about their appearance. If you have spider veins, there are treatments available that can reduce or clear them.

Signs of spider veins

If you have spider veins on your legs, they will appear as red or blue threadlike lines.

Additional symptoms occur more commonly with varicose veins than with spider veins. However, sometimes spider veins can make your legs ache or feel tired and heavy. They may also cause a slight burning sensation.

Spider veins may disappear on their own after several months, or they may be permanent.

Causes of spider veins

Spider veins are damaged veins. The veins in your leg have tiny one-way valves that direct the flow of blood from your legs back to your heart. Weakened valves let some blood flow back in the other direction and accumulate in the vein. The excess blood causes the veins to swell and weakens the vein walls. Eventually, the veins may become visible.

Sun damage or injury may cause spider veins, but they often appear as a result of normal wear-and-tear or changing hormones.

Certain people are more at risk for spider veins. You are more likely to develop them if you:

When to see the doctor for spider veins

In general, spider veins do not need medical treatment. However, if you experience discomfort or don’t like their appearance, you may want to see your doctor.

You should seek medical attention in any of the following cases:

  • A vein becomes warm to the touch or swollen
  • You also have sores or a rash on your ankle or leg
  • The skin on your ankle or calf changes color
  • You cannot perform your usual routines due to spider veins

QUESTION

An average adult has about ________ square feet of skin. See Answer

Diagnosing spider veins

Your doctor should be able to diagnose spider veins by looking at them and by examining your personal history.

They may also want to perform an ultrasound or a venogram (a type of X-ray) to get a closer look at your veins and rule out other medical conditions.

Treatments for spider veins

There are things you can do to help prevent new spider veins and treat existing ones. In addition, new techniques are continually evolving, so you should ask your doctor about all of your treatment options.

Your doctor may recommend any of the following:

Prevention

You can help prevent spider and varicose veins by improving your circulation. You can:

  • Exercise
  • Take breaks from standing or sitting for long periods
  • Elevate your legs
  • Avoid the bathtub — at least for long soaks
  • Wear compression socks

Your doctor may recommend compression socks if you have spider veins and they worry that your vein damage might lead to a blood clot.

Sclerotherapy

In sclerotherapy, your doctor will inject a solution into your vein, causing the vein to collapse. When blood can no longer flow through the damaged vein, circulation improves. Spider veins treated with sclerotherapy usually disappear within 3-6 weeks.

Laser treatment

Another common option is laser treatment. Your doctor will treat the affected area with a laser, destroying your vein without damaging your skin. Spider veins treated with a laser may disappear immediately, but you may also need subsequent sessions to see results.

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References
Aesthetic Surgery Journal: "A Novel Approach for the Treatment of Spider Veins."

American Academy of Dermatology Association: "Leg Veins: Why They Appear and How Dermatologists Treat Them."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Spider Veins."

Hospital for Special Surgery: "Telangiectasia and Autoimmune Disease."

Office on Women's Health: "Varicose veins and spider veins."

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