What Causes Spider Veins? Risk Factors & Treatments

woman with spider veins on leg

What Are Spider Veins (Telangiectasis)

Spider veins, also known as Telangiectasias, typically appear as tiny, red, thread-like veins that may resemble the branches of a tree. 

Usually found on the legs or face; however, spider veins can appear on other parts of the body.

What Are The Symptoms of Spider Veins

Many people do not report any physical symptoms associated with spider veins. They are often more of a cosmetic nuisance for many.

Spider veins appear as short, wisp-like lines or threads. They may look like branches of a tree, spider web-like, or like starburst clusters.

Generally found on the thighs, ankles, and feet, they can also appear on the face.

What Causes Spider Veins

Our leg veins have special one-way valves that open and close tightly to help the flow of blood back upward towards our heart. 

When venous disorders develop, these one-way valves can become weakened or damaged, allowing blood to leak backward into the veins of the lower legs. Over time, the vein begins to fill with blood and may branch out into tiny spider veins.

Reticular Veins (“Feeder” Veins)

Often, reticular veins are present when spider veins are visible. 

Reticular veins are small, green, or blue, veins that are larger than spider veins but smaller than varicose veins. Also known as the middle child of chronic venous insufficiency, reticular veins can supply excess blood to the spider veins, hence the name “feeder” veins.

Frequently, eliminating the reticular vein will often eliminate the spider vein as well.

How Are Spider Veins Different Than Varicose Veins?

woman walking with painful varicose veins on the back of her leg

Both spider veins and varicose veins fall under the umbrella of what is known as venous insufficiency.

Venous insufficiency occurs when the one-way valves in the leg veins are damaged or weakened, impacting circulation and allowing for blood to pool in the veins of the legs.

Spider veins are generally painless and are extremely small and wisp-like in appearance. They also do not bulge or protrude above the skin’s surface.

Varicose veins, on the other hand, are much larger and can go deeper. They can appear rope-like, twisted, and are reddish-blue or purple in color. In more severe cases, symptoms of varicose veins can cause discomfort, such as:

  • Aching, cramping, and swelling
  • Itching and burning
  • A sensation of heaviness in the legs
  • Skin discoloration
  • Bleeding

Risk Factors That Increase Chances of Developing Spider Veins

Some risk factors exist that can increase your chances of having spider veins:

  • Family history
  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Being female
  • Pregnancy
  • Hormonal fluctuations and use of certain birth control pills
  • Sitting or standing for long periods of time
  • Underlying venous disorder or prior blood clot (Deep Vein Thrombosis or DVT)
  • Sun damage

Treatment Options for Spider Veins

Most people find spider veins to be more of a cosmetic nuisance that does not create any bothersome symptoms. 

There are several options for treatment:

Compression Stockings

Compression stockings place pressure on the lower legs to help reduce blood from pooling in the lower limbs and to minimize swelling. This pressure also works to improve blood flow and circulation back up to the heart.

Are There Different Types of Compression Stockings?

There are several different types of compression stockings available to suit your needs:

  • Support pantyhose – available to purchase in many stores and online, they apply light pressure to the legs
  • Gradient Compressions Stockings and Socks – typically found in pharmacies and online, these stockings apply medium pressure to the feet, ankles, and legs
  • Prescription Compression Stockings – only available by prescription, these stockings apply high amounts of pressure to the feet and legs

Keep in mind, prescription stockings are not safe for people with heart problems or heart failure.

Additional Treatments Available for Spider Veins

Laser Treatment

Laser treatment is used on tiny spider veins and applied close to the skin’s surface. The focused beam of light from the laser works to clot and dry up the spider vein.

Sclerotherapy

Sclerotherapy is most common for small varicose veins and spider veins.

Sclerotherapy involves the injection of a special chemical directly into the vein. The chemical irritates the vein wall, causing it to shrink and collapse in on itself. Once collapsed, blood flow is redirected to other nearby veins. 

Closure System or VenaSeal

This type of treatment is used for veins that are just below the skin’s surface. Closure System or VenaSeal uses a particular kind of medical grade adhesive that is injected into the diseased vein. Once closed, blood flow is directed to nearby healthy veins.

Endovenous Laser Therapy (EVLT)

EVLT treats spider veins and smaller varicose veins. Small incisions are made into the diseased vein to allow the insertion of a tiny laser fiber. Heat is applied through the laser fiber to collapse the vein.

The vein will usually disappear entirely over months to a year.

Surgery

Surgery is generally reserved for larger varicose veins and not performed on spider veins due to their small size.

Will Insurance Cover Spider Vein Treatment?

Insurance will cover medically necessary medical procedures and treatments. Unfortunately, spider veins may often be considered a cosmetic reason for treatment, not a medically necessary need for treatment.

Nonetheless, it’s essential to contact your insurance provider, as you may have coverage for the cost of compression stockings, medication or additional treatments should you have symptoms along with your spider veins, such as pain or swelling.

Spider Vein Prevention

prevent varicose veins with leg elevation

Keep in mind, it may be impossible to prevent spider veins, especially if you have a family history or if you are pregnant. 

However, there are steps you can take and specific lifestyle changes you can implement to minimize the development or stop the progression of spider veins from getting worse:

  • Elevate your legs above your heart
  • Avoid standing or sitting for prolonged periods of time
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Use of compression stockings
  • Improve blood circulation

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Veinly uses medical reviewed journals, medical research, and has strict editorial review guidelines by medical professionals. You can read more about  our editorial policy and how our writers produce content for Veinly.

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