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Got Spider Veins or Varicose Veins?

Spider Veins


What are Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins, also known as varicoses, are a medical condition in which superficial veins become enlarged and twisted.

These veins typically develop in the legs, just under the skin, and on the feet.  While varicose veins can cause some symptoms of discomfort, pain and fatigue, many are more about appearance than anything else. 

Varicose veins may be blue or dark purple, and are often lumpy, bulging or twisted in appearance.

Do you get different types of varicose veins?

Yes you do.  Here are some of the different types.

  • Trunk varicose veins – these are near to the surface of the skin and are thick and knobbly; they're often long and can look unpleasant.
  • Reticular varicose veins – these are red and sometimes grouped close together in a network face or legs; they're harmless and, unlike trunk varicose veins, do not bulge.

Varicose Veins

What about Spider Veins?

Spider veins are small dilated blood vessels (blue or red) that can occur near the surface of the skin or mucus membranes. These dilated blood vessels can develop anywhere on the body but are commonly seen on the face - around the nose, cheeks and chin.  

Some examples of spider veins can be quite small. Others are more noticeable. They may make you feel self-conscious, but they are harmless and any treatment is usually done for cosmetic reasons only. 

Spider veins are most common on the thighs, ankles and calves.  They are also more common in women than men.  While it is not always known why they occur, they can run in families and may be due to pregnancy, the use of birth control pills or weight gain.

Other types of problematic veins that can appear similar to spider veins include: 

  • Telangiectasias - these are dilated capillaries close to the skin, and tend to be more noticeable on the face, whereas spider veins more commonly occur on the legs and feet  
  • Hemangiomas and angiomas - these are made up of very small arteries called arterioles or very small veins called venules. 

Sometimes, the terms spider veins and telangiectasias are used interchangeably.

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What are the symptoms of varicose veins?

  • Aching, heavy and uncomfortable legs
  • Swollen feet and ankles
  • Burning or throbbing in the legs
  • Muscle cramp in the legs, especially at night
  • Dry, itchy and thin skin over the affected vein or veins

The symptoms are usually worse during warm weather or if you've been standing for long periods of time. These symptoms may improve when you walk around or if you rest and raise your legs.


Varicose veins walking

What are the causes of varicose veins?

Varicose veins develop when the small valves inside the veins stop working properly.

In a healthy vein, blood flows smoothly to the heart. The blood is prevented from flowing backwards by a series of tiny valves that open and close to let blood through.

If the valves weaken or are damaged, the blood can flow backwards and collect in the vein, eventually causing it to be swollen and enlarged (varicose).

Certain things can increase your chances of developing varicose veins, such as:

  • Being female
  • Having a close family member with varicose veins.  They can be partly caused by your genes.
  • Being older.  As we age, our veins lose their elasticity so that the valves inside the veins don't work as well.
  • Being overweight as this can put extra pressure on the veins so they have to work that much harder to send the blood back to your heart and this appears to be more of a problem in women.
  • Having a job that involves long periods of standing when your blood will not flow as easily.
  • Being pregnant as the amount of blood increases to help support the developing baby, putting extra strain on the veins.  In addition, increased hormone levels can also cause the muscular walls of the blood vessels to relax.  During pregnancy, varicose veins can also develop in the womb (as it expands) putting pressure on the veins in the pelvic area and sometimes causing them to become varicose.  The good news is that these usually improve after pregnancy.
  • Other conditions.  Although usually rare, a previous blood clot, a swelling or tumour in the pelvis and/or abnormal blood vessels can cause varicose vein problems.


How can you avoid varicose veins?

It is always worth taking measure to try and prevent varicose veins in the first place.

  • Maintaining a good body weight.
  • Avoiding standing or sitting still for long periods.
  • Moving around regularly.
  • When relaxing, elevate your legs so that they are higher than the rest of you.
  • Taking plenty of regular exercise to improve circulation and maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. 

When should you see your doctor?

When you have varicose veins and they are not causing you any discomfort, there is really no necessity to see your doctor.  In addition, they are rarely a serious condition and do not usually require treatment.

However, you may wish to seek treatment if:

  • your varicose veins are causing you pain or discomfort
  • the skin over your veins is sore and irritated
  • the aching in your legs is causing irritation at night and disturbing your sleep

Your doctor can diagnose varicose veins based on these symptoms, although further tests may be carried out.

Your doctor may refer you to a vascular specialist if you have any of the following more serious symptoms:

  • Varicose veins that are causing pain, aching, discomfort, swelling, heaviness or itching.
  • Changes in the color of the skin on your leg that may be caused by problems with the blood flow in the leg.
  • Skin conditions affecting your leg, such as eczema, that may be caused by problems with the blood flow in the leg.
  • Hard and painful varicose veins that may be caused by problems with the blood flow in the leg.
  • A healed or unhealed leg ulcer (a break in the skin that has not healed within two weeks) below the knee.

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How are varicose veins treated? (2014, February 13)
nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/vv/treatment. (Accessed, July 15, 2021)

Joh, J. H., Kim, W.-S., Jung, I. M., Park, K.-H., Lee, T., Kang, J. M., & Consensus Working Group. (2014, December). Consensus for the treatment of varicose vein with radiofrequency ablation. Vascular Specialist International, 30(4), 105-112.
ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4480318/(Accessed, July 15, 2021).

Varicose veins and spider veins. (2017, January 4)
womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/varicose-veins-and-spider-veins. (Accessed, July 15, 2021).