Spider veins and varicose veins are the most common vein disorders. Many people believe that they are two different names for the same condition of the veins. Although causes, symptoms, and treatments are similar for both, varicose veins and spider veins are actually not the same disorder.
At South Texas Vein Institute, our practice is focused on treating varicose veins, spider veins, and reticular (blue) veins. Using state-of-the-art equipment and cutting-edge, minimally-invasive techniques, our surgeons provide high-quality, individually-tailored, comprehensive vein care for our patients.
What Are the Differences Between Varicose Veins and Spider Veins?
Varicose veins and spider veins are two different diseases that have both similarities and differences. Many people want treatment for either condition for cosmetic reasons. However, varicose veins are often treated for medical reasons, as well.
Varicose veins are large, twisted, raised, swollen veins that can be seen through the skin. They are red, purple, or blue in color, twisting and turning and bulging from the skin surface. Varicose veins are usually 3mm or larger.
Spider veins are smaller and more delicate – typically less that 1 mm. They are visible red, purple, or blue veins that branch out in a spider web pattern.
Spider veins can be seen most often on the legs, chest, or face. Varicose veins usually develop in the legs and may extend into the thighs.
Pain and Discomfort
Most people with spider veins suffer no symptoms and seek treatment because of the cosmetic impact these networks of visible red, blue, or purple veins can have on their appearance. However, some patients with spider veins experience itching, burning, or stinging, and possibly secondary skin conditions.
Varicose veins, on the other hand, can cause a range of symptoms, in addition to an unsightly appearance. Patients with this condition may experience:
- Heaviness of the legs
- Leg fatigue
- Restless legs
- Night cramps
Generally, spider veins are mainly a cosmetic concern. In some cases, there may be bleeding and bruising after scrubbing the skin too hard or bumping into something.
Varicose veins can have medical complications. Common secondary conditions from varicose veins include:
- Changes in the skin
- Skin ulcers
Like spider veins, varicose veins may bleed and may require emergency treatment in severe cases. Varicose veins may be prone to developing blood clots which can travel to the lungs and cause pulmonary embolism, a potentially life-threatening condition
What Causes Varicose Veins and Spider Veins?
For the most part, varicose veins and spider veins have the same causes in common. A number of factors can predispose a person to these vein diseases, including:
- Genetics (predisposition passed on from parent to child through the genes)
- Occupations that involve prolonged standing (hairstylists, nurses, teachers, factory workers, wait staff, etc.)
- Sitting still for long periods at a time (as with office workers and frequent travelers)
- Obesity or being overweight
- Hormonal influences during puberty and menopause
- Use of birth control pills
- Post-menopausal hormone replacement
- History of blood clots
- Conditions that increase pressure in the abdomen, such as tumors or constipation
- High-heeled footwear
- Tight, restrictive clothing
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Trauma or injury to the skin
- Exposure to UV rays
- Previous vein surgery
An estimated 30% to 60% of adults have varicose veins. This condition is more common among women than men. Varicose veins tend to develop with increasing frequency with aging.
Conservative Treatments for Spider Veins and Varicose Veins
Many women and men seek treatment for spider veins and varicose veins because of cosmetic concerns. However, varicose veins often require a medical procedure, determined by the degree of varicosity (swelling, twisting, and lengthening of the veins), complications, and physical symptoms, as well as desired cosmetic results.
When you receive a medical procedure for either varicose veins or spider veins, we generally recommend one or more of the following conservative treatments:
- Wear compression stockings to improve blood flow, slow progression, and reduce symptoms. We recommend compression hose for most people in high-risk categories for varicose veins and spider veins.
- Lose weight if you are overweight and continue to maintain a healthy weight. Excess pounds are a contributing factor to spider and varicose veins.
- Walk or engage in other regular exercise for the legs. Exercising the legs tones the muscles and activates the calf muscle pump, which helps return blood from the legs and feet back up to the heart.
- Elevate the legs. Put your feet up with your legs above the level of your hips as often as possible during the day. Sleep with your feet resting on a pillow to elevate the legs.
- Avoid prolonged sitting or standing. If your job requires you to sit or stand for extended periods of time, take a break and walk around for 5 minutes after every 45-minute period of sitting or standing.
Medical Procedures for Spider Veins and Varicose Veins
There are a variety of treatment options available for spider veins and varicose veins. At South Texas Vein Institute, we focus on state-of-the-art, minimally-invasive techniques.
Sclerotherapy is the gold standard for treatment of spider veins, and is also a popular treatment for varicose veins. This minimally-invasive procedure involves injecting a chemical solution directly into the vein.
The injected solution causes the walls of the vein to collapse and seal shut so that blood is redirected to healthier blood vessels. Over time, the treated vein is absorbed by the body and becomes less visible.
Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)
RFA is a cutting-edge, alternative method for treating varicose veins. In this minimally-invasive procedure, the surgeon makes a small incision near the knee, through which a small catheter is threaded in the vein up to the groin.
Radiofrequency energy is applied to heat the vein. The heat destroys the vein and, in time, it is absorbed by the body and disappears. This is an outpatient procedure with a quick recovery.
Endovenous Laser Ablation
This minimally-invasive procedure is typically used to treat large varicose veins in the legs. It is done on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia and usually takes less than 30 minutes to perform.
A small laser fiber is inserted directly into the vein. Pulses of light are delivered inside the vein, causing it to collapse, shrink, and eventually disappear.
Lasers use heat energy to selectively damage or destroy varicose or spider veins. Facial spider veins often respond well to laser therapy.
We find that ELVeS® laser treatment for varicose veins provides a better patient experience with:
- Short treatment time
- Minimal downtime
- Less post-operative discomfort
- Excellent cosmetic and medical results
The surgeon maps the varicose vein with ultrasound and inserts a thin laser fiber into the vein. Laser energy emitted through the fiber closes the vein and blood flow is re-routed to healthy blood vessels in the surrounding tissue. Surface veins connected to the treated vein generally shrink after treatment.
This is an in-office procedure that takes approximately 45 minutes to perform. You may return to your normal activities immediately after treatment, with the exception of rigorous exercise.
Reasons to Have Treatment for Varicose Veins and Spider Veins
With advances in technology today, varicose veins and spider veins can be safely treated more effectively than was ever possible in the past. Veins are typically treated for one or both of two reasons: because they are cosmetically unappealing; and to relieve symptoms such as pain, discomfort, and swelling.
For most patients, vein treatment has a number of benefits. It can:
- Provide relief from aching, swelling, heaviness, fatigue, restlessness, and cramping of the legs
- Help improve general health
- Give you the confidence to wear shorts, swimsuits, or short skirts and bare your legs again
- Allow you to participate in activities without physical discomfort
- Noticeably improve the appearance of your legs
Comprehensive Vein Care Management
Our doctors at South Texas Vein Institute personally perform all procedures and personally manage every aspect of your vein care. In this way, we can more accurately diagnose vein disorders and secondary conditions and individually tailor a treatment plan for each patient.
Treatment may involve a medical procedure such as sclerotherapy, RFA, endovenous laser ablation, or ELVeS® laser treatment. We may also recommend conservative treatments such as compression stockings, weight loss, walking or other leg exercise, elevating the legs, and avoiding prolonged sitting or standing.
If you are suffering with spider veins or varicose veins, schedule a consultation in our state-of-the-art facility. After an in-depth discussion of your medical history, symptoms, and cosmetic concerns and a careful examination, we can custom-tailor a varicose vein or spider vein treatment plan to suit your needs.