Spider veins are small, thin veins that lie close to the surface of the skin, appearing as clusters of red, blue or purple veins. Technically a mild form of varicose veins, spider veins can cause symptoms that range from mild discomfort to dull aching, despite their smaller size.
At The University of Kansas Health System, our specialists provide a variety of options for spider vein treatment. They'll work with you to determine the best course of treatment based on the size, location and severity of your spider veins.
What are spider veins?
Spider veins are connected with the larger venous system but are not an essential part of it. Although spider veins are commonly found on the thighs, calves and ankles, they can also be found on the face. They can cover either a very small or very large area of skin.
Spider veins may take on 1 of 3 basic patterns:
- Linear, appearing as thin separate lines
- Tiny branch-like shapes
- True spider shape, with a group of veins radiating outward from a dark central point
Spider veins cannot always be prevented. Wearing support hose may minimize unwanted blood vessels from developing. Weight control and regular exercise may be helpful. Sun protection is important to limit the number of unwanted vessels on the face.
Spider vein symptoms and risks
For some, spider veins have no additional symptoms and may be mainly a cosmetic concern. However, other people can experience aching or burning from their spider veins.
The cause of spider veins is not completely known, although they often run in families. There are many factors that can contribute to getting spider veins:
- Occupations or activities that require prolonged sitting or standing
- Other events that cause hormonal shifts
- The use of certain medications
- Weight gain
In fair-skinned people, spider veins on the nose and the cheeks can also be related to sun exposure. Spider veins can appear in both men and women, but are seen more frequently in women.
Spider vein diagnosis and screening
Your doctor can usually diagnose spider veins by sight during a physical exam. In some cases, your doctor may recommend additional testing to determine or rule out possible underlying causes for your spider veins, or to screen for other types of vascular disease.
Injections for spider veins
Sclerotherapy is a fast, minimally invasive treatment for people with spider veins or varicose veins. This procedure shrinks blood vessels to improve your appearance and reduce related vascular symptoms.
Spider vein treatment
Not all spider veins require treatment, and there are several lifestyle changes that may help prevent the formation of spider veins and varicose veins:
- Avoid standing for long periods
- Don’t sit with your legs crossed
- Elevate your legs when resting
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
If you already have spider veins in your legs, compression socks may help you feel more comfortable.
For spider veins that do require treatment, The University of Kansas Health System offers multiple vein treatments. The most common treatment option for spider veins is sclerotherapy. During sclerotherapy, a special solution is injected directly into the blood vessel with a fine needle. The solution irritates the lining of the vessel, causing it to swell and stick together, and causing the blood to clot. Over several weeks, the vessel turns into scar tissue and eventually fades, becoming barely noticeable.
A single blood vessel may have to be injected more than once, usually weeks to months apart, depending upon its size. A number of vessels may be injected at any treatment session. After several treatments, most people can expect an 80-90% improvement. Fading of the spider veins occurs gradually over a period of months.
The injection uses a fine needle that causes a barely noticeable pinprick feeling. Some people experience a slight to moderate burning feeling immediately after the injection, but this disappears after a few seconds.
To improve the blood circulation in the deep veins, it is essential to walk after the treatment. Patients wear a compression stocking to reduce the risk of bruising and swelling or other complications. This may help seal the treated vessels, keep blood from collecting under the skin and reduce development of dark spots. It may also reduce the number of treatments necessary and the possibility of recurrence.
We recommend regular exercise, weight control and the use of support stockings (if practical) between treatments and after treatments.
There are some possible side effects. They include:
- Allergic reactions to sclerosing solutions. Although such reactions are uncommon, they can be treated. Inform your vascular surgeon immediately if you think you have an allergy to this solution.
- Brown lines or spots on the skin at the sites of treated blood vessels. Darkened areas may result when blood escapes from treated veins and are probably formed from iron in the blood. These dark areas occur more often in patients who have larger veins treated or those who tan easily. In most cases, they disappear within a year, but may last longer.
- Burning with discoloration of the skin.
- Development of groups of fine red blood vessels near the sites of injection of larger vessels. About ⅓ of patients develop groups of vessels especially on the thighs. Most disappear by themselves, some need additional injection treatments or laser therapy; a few may last.
- Inflammation of treated blood vessels. This is very unusual but when it occurs, it is treated with medications such as aspirin, compression, antibiotics or heat.
- Lumps in injected vessels. This is coagulated or trapped blood and is not dangerous. The surgeon may drain the blood from these areas a few weeks after injection, if needed.
- Red, raised areas at the sites of injection. These are similar to hives and response should disappear within a day or so. Hive-like reactions usually go away within 10-15 minutes after injection.
- Small, painful ulcers at treatment sites either immediately or within a few days of injection. These occur when some of the solution escapes into the surrounding skin or enters a small artery at the treatment site. This can be successfully treated, but it is necessary to inform the vascular surgeon immediately.
- Stinging or pain at the injection sites, swelling of the ankles or feet, or muscle cramps. This usually occurs when hypertonic saline solution is used.
- Temporary bruises. Bruises usually occur after laser treatments and are probably related to the thinness of blood vessel walls. They usually disappear in a few weeks. Occasionally, bruising is seen with sclerotherapy.
Large veins may recur even after surgical procedures. Spider veins may also recur. It may seem that a previously injected vessel has recurred when in fact, a new spider vein has appeared in the same area.