Varicose Veins vs. Spider Veins: What’s The Difference?

You’ve likely heard the terms “varicose veins” and “spider veins” used to describe the unsightly, red and blue squiggly lines that appear on the legs, hands, and face just below the surface of the skin. At San Diego Varicose Vein Treatment Center, we often hear patients use these terms interchangeably. Though they do look similar, there are some key differences between varicose veins and spider veins that are important to understand if you suffer from venous insufficiency.

What do varicose veins and spider veins look like?

Perhaps the easiest way to differentiate between varicose veins and spider veins is in the way they look. Varicose veins are enlarged and can appear red, blue, or flesh colored. They often look like a telephone cord bulging beneath the surface of the skin, measuring more than three millimeters in diameter. Varicose veins typically appear on the thighs, backs of the calves, and the insides of the legs.

On the other hand, spider veins are small, wispy, tree branch-like veins usually less than a millimeter in diameter. They appear closer to the surface of the skin than varicose veins and usually show up behind the knees and on the face, though they can appear anywhere on the body. Spider veins may be purple or red and often materialize in clusters, which can look like bruises.

What causes varicose veins and spider veins?

Varicose veins most often occur due to a valve malfunction. As we age, the valves in our veins sometimes weaken in their job at keeping blood flowing towards the heart. When these one-way flaps fail, blood flows backwards into the leg, increasing pressure on the veins. This causes the veins to dilate and protrude.

Spider veins can also be caused by increased pressure in the veins, but it is unknown why some people get them and others don’t. They’re most often hereditary, but spider veins can also come about due to obesity, pregnancy, menopause, the use of birth control pills, prolonged sitting or standing, sun exposure, and injury.

Do these veins cause problems?

Spider veins rarely cause serious health issues, and most patients have them treated for cosmetic reasons. Varicose veins, on the other hand, can cause aching pain, throbbing, heaviness, fatigue, and discomfort in the legs. Most patients have varicose veins treated for relief of these symptoms. In some cases, varicose veins can lead to more serious health problems like skin ulcers and blood clots, which can be fatal if untreated.

How are varicose veins and spider veins treated?

Both varicose veins and spider veins can be treated at the San Diego Varicose Vein Treatment Center with minimally invasive techniques, including:

With sclerotherapy, we inject varicose veins and spider veins with a solution that causes them to collapse and seal shut. This redirects blood flow to healthier veins. The collapsed veins turn into scar tissue, are absorbed by the body, and fade after a few weeks. Large varicose veins may take several months to fade from view.

Endovenous Thermal Ablation (EVTA)
With EVTA, we use laser energy to collapse diseased veins and seal them shut. The procedure involves making a small incision and inserting a catheter into a varicose vein. A probe is threaded through the catheter, and a device at the tip of the probe heats up the vein and closes it off. Recovery is faster than sclerotherapy and the cosmetic results are similar.

Ambulatory Phlebectomy
If varicose veins cannot be treated with sclerotherapy or laser therapy, Dr. Taghizadeh may recommend surgery. With ambulatory phlebectomy, tiny cuts are made in the skin and hooks are used to pull the diseased veins from the leg. The treatment uses local anesthesia and patients can return to their normal activities the same day.

Ready to say “goodbye” to your varicose veins or spider veins?

Beach season is right around the corner, making now a perfect time to schedule your free consultation at the San Diego Varicose Vein Treatment Center. At your appointment, Dr. Taghizadeh will perform a physical exam and review your medical history to develop an individualized plan that will banish those embarrassing varicose veins and spider veins once and for all.

Call us today to set up your appointment. We look forward to your visit!