Spider veins

Originally Published: November 9, 2012
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Hi Alice,

I'm in my early 20s and suddenly seem to have quite a few spider veins. They are primarily on my legs, but I also have a few on my chest, arms, and shoulders. I remember getting my first spider vein when I was still a teenager, because my mom pointed it out. Up until recently, I probably got about one or two more a year, but they were primarily on the inside of my legs, so they didn't concern me too much.

This year, however, I seem to have developed many more. I find them very disturbing and worry that they might indicate underlying health problems. Some websites say they don't indicate health problems and some people are simply more prone to them than others. However, I've read other sites saying that they could be indicative of poor blood circulation and a lack of oxygen reaching my extremities. I'm very tall, so I wonder if this could be true. Are there any health concerns with spider veins? Is there anything that can be done to prevent their appearance? Aside from laser removal, is there anything that can be done to remove them or cover them up? I'm beginning to become embarrassed to wear shorts and skirts, which is a shame when the weather is lovely.

Thanks,

Afraid of Spiders

Dear Afraid of Spiders,

Spider veins can feel challenging to deal with, especially when planning outfits for the warm seasons. Although spider veins are usually not associated with underlying health issues, to some they can be perceived as unsightly and cause bothersome burning or itching sensations. Fortunately, scientific research has clarified the root causes of spider veins, as well as how to prevent and treat them. You’re certainly not alone in your concerns about the appearance of spider veins on your legs — it’s normal to be a little vain about your veins.

Spider veins are similar to varicose veins in their causes, but they’re usually much smaller and closer to the skin’s surface. They rarely bulge out from the skin like their varicose counterparts; however, they can be very bright red or blue, with jagged, short lines, resembling spider webs. Causes of spider veins include the following:

  • Blood backup (also known as poor circulation).
  • Hormone changes, especially during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.
  • Sun exposure, especially in individuals with fair skin.
  • Obesity: Extra weight may put too much pressure on veins.
  • Inactivity: If you sit or stand in the same position too long, blood may not be pumped to your veins properly, which can cause abnormalities.
  • Age: As you get older, vein valves weaken.
  • Medical history: Spider vein occurrence increases among those who have family members with this issue.

There are many treatment options to consider, depending on the severity of your spider veins and how much they bother you. Here are some choices to consider:

  • Compression Stockings. The most cost effective and least invasive option to consider in the reduction of spider veins is using compression stockings. These stockings work by applying pressure to the spider veins, encouraging them to fade away with continued use. Pressure stockings are available for purchase at drug stores, but if generic ones don’t work, you can go to a specialist to obtain stockings that apply more or less pressure where necessary.
  • Sclerotherapy. The most common and effective medical procedure for treating spider veins, sclerotherapy may be a suitable option for you. During sclerotherapy, a doctor or dermatologist injects a chemical into your spider veins that halts blood flow and transforms the vein into scar tissue that eventually fades away with up to 90% efficacy. This procedure is done in a physician’s office, and hospitalization is unnecessary. Although this procedure is very common and effective, there are side effects associated with it, including stinging, burning, and inflammation caused by trapped blood vessels. You should walk for about 30 minutes after undergoing sclerotherapy, and avoid hot baths, intensive exercise, blood thinners, and sunlight for a few days.
  • Laser treatments. The second most common of spider vein reduction, laser therapy involves applying strong surges of light to the affected area, causing the spider vein to fade away. The disadvantage of this procedure is that it usually takes two to five laser therapy sessions to eliminate the appearance of the spider vein. Redness, swelling, and skin discoloration are common side effects.

Finally, there are many ways to prevent getting spider veins. Maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, wearing sunscreen, and limiting how frequently you wear high heels are all helpful techniques. Additionally, if you don’t think any of the above treatment options are suitable for you, consider applying a topical makeup product such as foundation or concealer to reduce the appearance of spider veins.

Your height is unlikely to be associated with the development of spider veins. However, poor circulation is understood to be the primary cause of spider veins, so you might consider discussing this issue with your health care provider. Your provider can also assess your spider veins and may refer you to a dermatologist. If you’re a Columbia student, you can make an appointment with your primary care provider with Medical Services on the Morningside campus through Open Communicator or by calling 212-854-2284. If you’re a student at the Medical Center campus, try scheduling an appointment with Student Health by calling 212-305-3400.

Regardless of if you seek medical support you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. Spider veins are quite natural and can be a part of your individuality and beauty. Since there are few health issues of concern, you might embrace your unique self. After all, there is no reason to fear spiders.

Alice