Spider Veins FAQs

Spider veins, also known as telengiectasias, are a very common problem, aesthetically troubling to many people. Following are some frequently asked questions about spider veins.

What are spider veins?

Spider veins are veins in which the valves have stopped functioning properly. When the valves of a vein are working correctly, they keep blood flowing in one direction. When they become damaged, they allow blood to flow backwards and pool, causing the walls of the vein to distend and enlarge. This is called venous reflux. When smaller, more superficial veins are involved, a web of red or blue thin branches appear on the surface of the skin, usually on the legs or face. These are referred to as spider veins.

What is the difference between spider veins and varicose veins?

Spider veins, although they result from the same type of vascular malfunction as varicose veins, are much less serious. Spider veins are a superficial manifestation of the problem. When veins become varicose, their walls have thinned considerably and blood has pooled in them so that they appear as palpable dark cords on the surface of the skin.

What are the risk factors for spider veins?

The causes of spider are not completely known, but many identifiable factors put an individual at risk. Risk factors for spider veins include:

  • Increasing age over 50
  • Smoking
  • Family history of the disease
  • Prolonged sitting or standing
  • Hormonal changes
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • Sun exposure

Since hormonal changes increase the risk of developing spider veins there is a higher risk of developing the problem during puberty, menopause, pregnancy and while taking birth control medication. Since extra weight puts stress on veins, pregnancy involves a double risk. Because women go through greater hormonal fluctuations and may go through pregnancy, more women than men develop spider veins.

Can spider veins be dangerous?

Not usually. In and of themselves, varicose veins are not usually dangerous, but left untreated they may develop into varicose veins which are a more serious medical condition. Varicose veins may result in pain, fatigue, or inflammation of the skin and may be evidence of arteriosclerosis or clotting difficulties.

How are spider veins treated?

As with so many other medical conditions, weight loss and regular exercise are helpful in treating spider veins and particularly in keeping them from developing into varicose veins. Wearing compression stockings and avoiding leg crossing and sitting or standing for prolonged periods may also be useful.

For patients who want spider veins removed for cosmetic reasons, the two most frequently employed methods are sclerotherapy and laser ablation. Both are minimally invasive, outpatient procedures, providing excellent results.

Can spider veins be prevented?

Possibly. Since there is a hereditary component to the development of spider veins, they cannot be prevented in all cases. Keeping to a healthy diet and normal weight, applying sunscreen, exercising regularly, and avoiding long periods of sitting or standing may prevent the development of spider veins and will certainly contribute to good vascular health.

Additional Resources