Does it look like a tiny spider spun a purple, blue, or red web across the surface of your skin? Those are spider veins. They can appear anywhere on your body, but are most common on the legs. Fortunately, from a medical perspective, they’re harmless. However, if your spider veins are making you uncomfortable, then there are treatments available that can reduce or even eliminate them.
What causes spider veins
Spider veins are small blood vessels just below the skin’s surface that have become damaged. No one knows for sure what causes them. Most likely, spider veins arise for a few different reasons. For example, spider veins on the face are often the result of burst blood vessels that are believed to be related to sun exposure. Meanwhile, spider veins on the legs are closely associated with chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), or malfunctioning veins deeper inside the leg that lead to pressure build up in the smaller, surface veins.
Whatever the source, spider veins tend to be progressive and those who have them will typically get more over time.
Who gets spider veins
Studies have shown that most adults will eventually develop some spider veins during their lifetime. However, they can be more common and severe if:
- Others in your family have had spider veins.
- Your ethnicity is non-Hispanic white.
- You’re over 30 years old.
- You’re a woman.
- You have a history of smoking.
- You are or have been overweight.
- You are or have ever been pregnant.
- You take or have taken birth control pills or postmenopausal hormone replacements.
- You have a history of deep vein thrombosis (blood clots).
Spider veins vs varicose veins
Although many people get them confused, spider veins are not varicose veins.
Varicose veins are known to be caused by CVI and can lead to complications such as blood clots or venous ulcers. They also are usually accompanied by symptoms such as pain, achiness, swelling, fatigue, and/or itching in the legs. Spider veins, meanwhile, are almost always asymptomatic. This is an important distinction because varicose vein treatment is covered by most insurance while spider vein treatment is almost never covered.
You can tell the difference between varicose veins and spider veins because varicose veins bulge out from the skin and have a twisted appearance. Varicose veins may have a bluish or purplish hue, but can also be flesh toned. And varicose veins are significantly larger, resembling a knotted rope more than a spider’s web.
Many people will have both spider veins and varicose veins. In some instances, the varicose veins are deeper under the skin and not visible on the surface. That’s why spider veins that are accompanied by pain, aching, swelling, itching, or leg fatigue, should be evaluated with a diagnostic vein study to look for CVI.
How spider veins are treated
There are no at-home treatments that will get rid of spider veins. Spider veins are treated in your doctor’s office with a non-invasive procedure. The treatment will cause your spider veins to fade and often disappear, though results differ from person to person.
Sclerotherapy has been used to treat veins for over 150 years. It is a safe, non-invasive procedure that causes minimal discomfort and is considered the gold-standard for how spider veins are treated.
With sclerotherapy, your doctor uses a tiny needle to inject a solution called a sclerosing agent into your spider veins. This medicine irritates the vein causing it to collapse. Blood stops flowing and the vein loses its red or purple appearance. Your body then re-vascularizes the area and absorbs the old tissue.
There are several different sclerosing agents available. Each has its own pros and cons including effectiveness, level of discomfort, and side effects. You should talk to your doctor about which one is right for you.
Lasers can also be used to treat spider veins. With laser therapy, a focused beam of high energy light targets the pigment in the blood vessels. It heats and damages the vein causing it to collapse and eventually get reabsorbed by the body.
During laser therapy, your doctor will provide you with goggles to protect your eyes from the laser. They will also apply a cooling gel to the area being treated before positioning the device over your skin. When the laser fires you may experience a sensation like that of a rubber band snapping.
In general, both laser therapy and sclerotherapy achieve similar results; however, sclerotherapy tends to be less painful and less expensive than laser therapy.
What to expect from spider vein treatment
When you arrive for your spider vein appointment, you can expect your doctor to discuss with you your condition and your treatment options. More often than not, you can receive your treatment that same day. The procedure may take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour depending on how many spider veins you’re having treated.
Your doctor may ask you to wear compression stockings while you heal after your spider vein treatment. Although some patients see immediate results, it can take 2-3 months for your spider veins to fade. It’s a good idea to take before and after photos to track your progress. Any spider veins that persist after 2-3 months may require additional treatment.
If you’d like to learn more about how spider veins are treated, then contact the vein specialists at DeKalb Vein Center for a consultation.