Spider veins are small blood vessels that have become dilated and appear on the surface of the skin. They are most commonly found on the legs but can appear anywhere on the body, including the face, breasts, and hands. These dilated blood vessels are usually flat and red, and look like a spider web or a tree with branches.
They appear as thin, threadlike lines or clusters that are pink, red, blue, or purple in color.
Spider veins are are generally harmless, but on rare occasions they can indicate a disorder of the veins.
Spider veins differ from varicose veins which are larger, swollen blood vessels that may be associated with other disorders, such as thrombosis or venous clots, venous stasis ulcers or swollen, tender veins.
Causes of spider veins
The exact cause of spider and varicose veins remains unknown, but several factors, including pregnancy, and a family history of spider veins can increase a person's chance of developing spider veins.
Spider veins arise more often in women because female hormones are involved in their growth. Spider veins on the nose or cheeks may be triggered by excessive sun exposure. Puberty, birth control pills, pregnancy, or hormone replacement therapy often seem to trigger them. Spider veins may also appear after an injury, or trauma to the skin, such as excessively tight clothing.
Sun protection is important to limit the number of spider veins that develop on the face.
Treatment options for spider veins
Spider veins can be left alone if they are not causing any problems.
Treatment options are available for spider veins that are unsightly or uncomfortable. Approximately 80-90% of spider veins that are treated will disappear of become much smaller.
The most common treatment for spider veins is sclerotherapy, which is outlined in the next section. Other treatments include:
- Sclerotherapy. Sclerotherapy is the most common treatment for spider veins. It can usually be performed on an outpatient basis with very little scarring or side effects. During sclerotherapy, a solution containing saline and other chemicals is injected into the vein with a very small needle. The solution causes the vein to close or collapse, greatly reducing or even eliminating its appearance. Sclerotherapy may require multiple treatments of one to three injections per vein (more than one vein can be treated at a time in one session)
- Laser treatments. Laser and light treatments, including intense pulsed light (IPL) and high-intensity lasers, may be used to close the small blood vessels.
- Electrodessication, during which veins are sealed off with an electrical current.
Some doctors may combine procedures for optimal results, depending on the patient’s preferences and lifestyle.