Spider veins are small enlarged superficial blood vessels that appear red or blue. They commonly occur on the legs, but frequently occur on the face or elsewhere. These dilated blood vessels may be short, unconnected lines each about the size of a large hair or connected in a matted, “sunburst” pattern. They may also look like a spider web or a tree with branches. Sometimes, they occur in a small area and aren’t very noticeable, or they can cover a large area of skin and be quite unattractive. Larger dilated blood vessels called varicose veins may be raised above the skin surface. They may occur along with spider veins.
Patients can have pain, ranging from a dull throbbing pain to a burning sensation. The larger vessels are more likely to cause discomfort, although smaller blue veins have been shown to cause pain.
If spider veins are unsightly or uncomfortable, they can be treated with laser or by injection of a solution that will cause them to disappear or become much smaller. There is about a 50 – 90 percent chance for a greatly improved appearance.
The cause of spider veins is not completely known. In many cases, they seem to run in families. Identical twins can be affected in the same area of the body and to the same extent. The condition rarely occurs as part of an internal disease.
Spider veins appear in both men and women, but more frequently in women. The female hormones may play a role in their development. Puberty, birth control pills, pregnancy or hormone replacement therapy often seem to bring them out. They may also appear after an injury or as a result of wearing tight girdles or hosiery held up with tight rubber bands. Spider veins may also occur in association with large varicose veins.
Spider veins on the nose or the cheeks of fair-skinned persons may be related to sun exposure.
Spider veins can’t always be prevented. Wearing support hose may minimize unwanted blood vessels from developing. Keeping one’s weight at a normal level and exercising regularly may also be helpful. Eating a high-fiber diet and wearing low-heeled shoes may also help. Sun protection is important to limit the number of unwanted vessels on the face.
The injection method, a procedure called sclerotherapy is used to treat unwanted blood vessels. One of several kinds of solutions, called sclerosing solution, is injected with a very fine needle directly into the blood vessel. This procedure has been used for spider veins since the 1930’s and before that for larger veins. The solution irritates the lining of the vessel, causing it to swell and stick together and the blood to thicken.
Over a period of weeks, the vessel turns into scar tissue that is absorbed, eventually becoming barely noticeable or invisible. Sclerotherapy is currently not done in our office.