Spider veins and varicose veins are different in appearance but similar in their causes. With varicose veins, the valves located within the veins are diseased and do not fully close to prevent blood in the vein from flowing in the wrong direction (called “refluxing”). This results in bulging veins in the legs which are often blue or purple in appearance. These varicose veins can cause pain, numbness and fatigue in the legs; and in more extreme cases can cause painful leg ulcers.
We refer to spider veins as smaller discolored veins that have a spider web-like appearance. These veins are generally not painful, and are treated cosmetically.
As we age, the risk of developing varicose veins increases. Approximately 30 – 50% of adults suffer from the underlying condition, known as chronic venous insufficiency, or CVI.
Approximately 80% of patients are women and only 20% are men.
Contributing factors that put a person at risk of developing varicose veins include:
- Standing profession
- Being overweight or obese
- Hormonal issues
What Causes Varicose and Spider Veins to Appear
Non-functioning valves within a blood vessel cause varicose veins. Veins return blood back to the heart, but when a valve does not function properly, it causes blood to flow backwards into the vein. This is called venous insufficiency and this backward flow causes vein enlargement. Spider veins can develop for the same reason, but are further influenced by obesity, heredity, pregnancy and menopause.
Signs of Vein Problems
The symptoms are similar for varicose and spider veins, but are typically more severe for varicose veins. Spider veins may cause minor burning or itching at the site. Varicose vein symptoms include leg aches or cramps, a feeling of leg heaviness, burning, throbbing or tingling. Skin ulcers, especially in the ankle area, are not uncommon when varicose veins are particularly severe.
Some people do not have warning symptoms that varicose veins are actually developing. One thing is for sure: no one welcomes the appearance of varicose veins. The most common symptoms include:
- Muscle cramps in the legs
- Discoloration of the skin, especially a brown discoloration around the ankle area
- A throbbing, tingling or burning sensation in the legs
- Leg tiredness
- Swollen legs or ankles
- Developing leg ulcers
Options for Treatment
- Sclerotherapy is used commonly for spider veins and smaller varicose veins. It involves injecting a small volume of liquid into the diseased vein. The sclerosing liquid acts upon the lining of the vein to cause it to seal shut, eliminating the vein completely.
- Ambulatory Phlebectomy is a minimally invasive procedure in which a large surface of varicose vein is removed through a series of miniature incisions that need no stitches. Compared to traditional vein stripping, this technique has virtually no scarring or side effects. It is performed in the office. A local anesthetic is used and patients have very little “down time” following the procedure.
- Endovenous laser treatment (EVLT) Vascular Laser Therapy is a minimally-invasive procedure that can be performed in the office in less than one hour. In this procedure, a thin laser fiber is inserted into the diseased vein. The physician delivers laser energy through the fiber, causing the vein to close. The loss of the diseased vein is not a problem for the circulatory system, since blood simply flows through other healthy veins after the procedure.
- Compression therapy for venous edema - Venous insufficiency, which can lead to the development of varicose veins, can also cause swelling, or edema. This is caused by a backup of blood and increased pressure in the veins. Venous insufficiency is a problem that is localized to the legs, ankles, and feet. One leg may be more affected than the other (asymmetrical edema). Treatments can include exercise, wrapping, massage, compression stockings and a compression pump.
Contact us if you have any questions regarding your spider or varicose veins.