Spider veins

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.


Afraid of Spiders

Dear Afraid of Spiders,

Although they're usually not an indicator of underlying health issues, to some, spider veins can be perceived as unsightly and uncomfortable. They may also cause bothersome burning or itching sensations. There are a number of culprits behind the appearance of spider veins, but the good news is that there are several ways for folks to treat and prevent them (more on this in a bit). No matter what you decide to do moving forward, you can rest assured that you’re not alone in your feelings about their appearance on your legs and other body parts — 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 bright red or blue, with jagged, short lines, resembling spider webs (which explains their creepy crawly name). They often appear on the legs and face. Your height is unlikely to be associated with the development of spider veins; they’re typically the result of a backup of blood in the veins and certain conditions may increase your chances of experiencing them, including:

  • Hormone changes, which can occur during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause
  • During pregnancy, when there's an increase of blood in the body and the enlarged uterus puts pressure on veins
  • Sun exposure, especially for those with fair skin
  • Obesity, as extra weight may put added pressure on veins
  • Inactivity, such as sitting or standing in the same position too long
  • Getting older because the older you get, the weaker your vein valves become
  • Family history of spider veins

List adapted from Womenshealth.gov.

So, what can be done? There are a few treatments to consider, depending on the severity of your spider veins and how much they bother you. To determine which might be the most appropriate for you, it's a good idea to get your health care provider in on the decision-making process. Here are some options to consider:

  • Compression stockings: The most cost effective and least invasive option to consider is using compression stockings. The stockings work by applying pressure to the spider veins, encouraging them to fade away with continued use. Pressure stockings are available for purchase at pharmacies, but if generic ones don’t work, you might consider talking with your health care provider about prescription-strength stockings that apply more pressure.
  • Sclerotherapy: This is the most common and effective medical procedure for treating spider veins. During sclerotherapy, a chemical is injected into your spider veins that halts blood flow and transforms the vein into scar tissue which then eventually fades away. Sometimes, it may take more than one round of treatment to address a vein and treatments are usually done about four to six weeks apart. This procedure is done in a health care provider's office, and neither anesthesia nor hospitalization are necessary. Although this treatment is very common and effective, there are side effects associated with it including itching, swelling, and possible skin color changes in the area that is treated.
  • Laser treatments: The second most common spider vein reduction treatment involves applying strong surges of light to the affected area, causing the spider vein to fade away. The advantage to this procedure is that there are no incisions or needles involved. However, it may not be as effective as sclerotherapy. Redness, swelling, and skin discoloration are common side effects.

You also mentioned you want to prevent these webs of veins from occurring. You are in luck! There are many ways to prevent spider veins. Maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular physical activity (especially getting your legs moving and circulation going), wearing sunscreen, elevating your legs when resting, and limiting how frequently you wear high heels are all helpful techniques. Additionally, it's a good idea to avoid sitting, standing, or crossing your legs for long period of time. If you don’t think any of the above treatment options are suitable for you, you could also consider applying a topical makeup product such as foundation or concealer to reduce the appearance of spider veins. Lastly, it's also worth mentioning that spider veins are quite natural and can be a unique part of what makes you an individual, so you might also just embrace your unique self!

Last updated Jan 15, 2016
Originally published Nov 09, 2012

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