23% of Americans have varicose veins. However, if you include the number of Americans who have other venous issues like spider veins, this percentage jumps to a whopping 85% of women and 80% of men.
Although many people consider their spider veins to be unsightly, there is some good news: spider veins are generally only a cosmetic issue, and are not considered dangerous. In addition, there are safe and effective treatments available for those who dislike the appearance of their spider veins.
What are Spider Veins?
Spider veins, like varicose veins, are intimately related to the circulatory systems — which governs how blood is transported throughout the body.
In general, spider veins have a very distinctive appearance and pattern. As opposed to the thick appearance of varicose veins, spider veins are tiny veins with a purple, red, or blue color — generally arranged in a pattern that resembles a spiderweb or tree branches.
While varicose veins are often raised and bumpy, spider veins appear as a flat sunburst or spray of visible blood vessels. Although they frequently appear on the legs, some individuals experience spider veins on their faces that are likely to be reddish in color.
The Anatomy of Spider Veins
To understand spider veins, it’s pivotal to understand the basics of the circulatory system. Composed of a large network of veins and arteries, this system transports blood — bearing oxygen and nutrients — throughout the body then back to the heart. Throughout this vast network, vessels of different sizes keep the system flowing smoothly — with smaller blood vessels linking together larger veins and arteries.
In the lower extremities, the body’s venous system works hard to pump blood back up to the heart. Specialized valves in the circulatory system keep blood from backing up and pooling in the veins. However, in cases of venous insufficiency, these special valves don’t work properly. When there’s an issue with the flow of blood throughout the body, blood can become “backed up” and pool in certain veins and blood vessels.
In essence, visible veins are generally a sign that some element of the circulatory system isn’t functioning optimally. Whereas varicose veins usually occur in some of the larger veins, spider veins are seen in small, superficial blood vessels.
The Collagen Connection
When spider veins occur on the face, they might be related to something a little different: the breakdown of collagen in the body. As an important connective tissue that supports your body, collagen is broken down by constant UV exposure. With a decrease in collagen, there will be less pressure exerted on blood vessels in the face — which could result in facial spider veins.
Causes & Risk Factors
Although spider veins are related to venous insufficiency, it’s difficult to say for sure what will cause spider veins for an individual. However, researchers have determined that there are some common risk factors associated with spider veins:
- Weight. Being overweight can put more pressure on your veins and provoke venous insufficiency.
- Sun Exposure. As stated previously, UV exposure can worsen spider veins by impacting collagen.
- Pregnancy. As a rule, pregnant women have extra blood pumping throughout their bodies to nourish and support the fetus. As a result, this can create more pressure in your veins and cause visible blood vessels.
- Age. As we get older, the valves in our blood vessels may not work as well. In addition, we may lose some muscle strength in the calves as we age, which could prevent muscles from adequately squeezing the veins and aiding in blood flow.
- Heredity. Spider veins are considered to have a genetic component, which means you’re more likely to have spider veins if other individuals in your family have them, too.
- Hormones. Certain hormones in your body, like estrogen, can impact your veins’ valves and contribute to visible veins.
- Rosacea. Those with rosacea — a skin condition associated with reddened, thickened skin — often experience spider veins on the face.
- Lifestyle. If your job or lifestyle requires you to sit or stand for extended periods of time, this can result in blood pooling in your legs.
Signs and Symptoms
In the majority of situations, spider veins are easily identified by their characteristic sunburst pattern on the calves, ankles, thighs, or face. Although many people won’t experience any discomfort as a result of spider veins, some people might feel:
- Slight pain in the area
- Slight burning association
- Decreased confidence due to the aesthetic appearance of spider veins
Is Testing Necessary?
Because spider veins are an easily detectable cosmetic issue, you probably wouldn’t need to receive any specialized tests. In general, your health care practitioner would be able to clearly see that you have spider veins, and help you respond accordingly.
However, if your spider veins are accompanied by varicose veins or other signs of venous insufficiency, your doctor might want to do some diagnostic testing. If it’s determined that your superficial spider veins are more related to heredity or hormones than a dangerous underlying condition, you probably won’t need any special testing.
Prevention: Lifestyle, Diet, and Exercise
In most cases, spider veins occur due to a variety of hormonal and hereditary factors that are difficult to control. For this reason, it may not be possible to prevent spider veins if, for example, you have a genetic predisposition or you become pregnant. However, supporting the overall health of your circulatory system may help prevent some instances of spider veins:
- Lose weight to avoid excess pressure on the veins
- Avoid sitting or standing for too long
- Avoid excessive drinking, which can enlarge blood vessels in the face
- Wear sunscreen to protect your face from UV exposure
- Get moderate exercise like walking to help improve overall circulation in the body
- If your spider veins are associated with venous insufficiency, it may be helpful to limit foods that negatively affect cardiovascular health, such as red meat.
Although it’s always a good idea to eat healthier, lose weight, and exercise, many individuals with perfectly healthy lifestyles will still experience spider veins. Luckily, treatment is readily available if you dislike the cosmetic appearance of spider veins.
Therapies for Spider Veins
When it comes to receiving treatment for spider veins, it’s important to recognize that not all insurance companies will cover treatment for a cosmetic issue. However, the cost is often affordable — and can be worth it to boost your confidence. You can talk to your vein specialist to discover which method of spider vein treatment works best for you.
Perhaps the most popular and effective treatment for spider veins, just one sclerotherapy treatment can clear up 70 to 80% of spider veins. In a sclerotherapy session, your vein specialist will inject a special substance that causes the walls of the spider vein to swell up and block the flow of blood. As a result, the spider vein will be re-absorbed by the body. This method is generally safe and doesn’t cause any damage to surrounding tissue.
After your session — which generally lasts around 15 minutes to an hour — you’ll be able to return immediately to your activities of daily life.
Many people use laser therapy to treat their spider veins since it is a non-invasive procedure. During laser therapy, your vein specialist will use a laser to target and heat up certain molecules within the vein. Once these molecules are heated to a certain threshold, they’ll be destroyed. In response, the vein itself will be sealed off — and your body will reabsorb the vein, eliminating the spider vein appearance.
Each session takes around 20 minutes to an hour, and often requires local anaesthesia so that you don’t feel pain from the heat. For the best results, you might have to go to a few separate sessions to remove your spider veins.
Talk to a Vein Specialist Today
Spider veins are a common occurrence that are generally quite simple to treat. If you feel like removing spider veins from your face or legs would help boost your confidence, you might want to seek minimally invasive treatments. When you’re ready to discuss treatment options, feel free to reach out to a vein specialist to get started.
Medically reviewed by Dr. Susanne Woloson on 5-01-2020.
*Disclaimer: “We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”