Large, bulging varicose veins are common: Up to 35% of adults in the United States have at least one. Although many varicose veins are little more than a cosmetic concern, some cause leg pain and swelling, itching, burning, and other problematic symptoms.
Sprawling networks of smaller spider veins are even more prevalent, affecting up to 85% of American adults. While this milder varicose vein type doesn’t typically cause symptoms or pose any health risks, most people would like to get rid of them.
Spider veins develop when a group of small blood vessels just beneath the skin becomes abnormally dilated. This irregular vascular swelling creates visible, prominent surface veins that are characterized by their sprawling, web-like appearance.
While they can emerge on any area of skin, most spider veins occur on the face or legs. They can be quite conspicuous, especially if they form an extensive reticulation of red or blue lines across a sizable area of skin.
Various factors can play a role in the development of spider veins, ranging from gender, age, and genetic predisposition to body weight, hormonal changes, and physical activity level. As with varicose veins, you’re more likely to get spider veins if you:
The underlying cause of a specific area of spider veins varies depending on its location:
The tiny spider veins and broken capillaries that appear on facial skin are often a product of excessive sun exposure, which can readily cause these delicate vessels to dilate and swell.
Hot, humid weather, environmental irritants, moderate to heavy alcohol consumption, and certain chronic skin conditions (i.e., rosacea) are other factors that can cause facial blood vessel swelling that gives rise to spider veins.
Like larger varicose leg veins, spider veins typically appear on your lower extremities when chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) causes them to swell and distort beyond their normal size and shape.
But how does CVI develop? In a word — pressure. Simply put, your leg veins must work against gravity to keep blood flowing in the right direction (toward your heart). They contain a series of one-way valves to help them maintain this continuous feat, but these valves aren’t immune to dysfunction.
When leg vein valves become weak, damaged, or don’t work as they should, blood pools up behind them and exerts continuous pressure on the surrounding vascular wall. In a large leg vein, this pressure causes the vessel to twist, bulge, and swell — or become varicose. In smaller surface vessels, this same process leads to the formation of visible spider veins.
Spider veins are virtually never harmful or dangerous, and most spider veins don’t cause pain or discomfort and aren’t seen as a sign of poor health.
In the “worst-case” scenario, facial spider veins can be a sign of long-term sun damage or a chronic inflammatory skin condition like rosacea that requires treatment to keep under control.
While some lower extremity spider veins can produce a dull aching sensation in your legs after a bout of prolonged standing, such symptoms are rare and usually a sign of more severe venous disease.
For most people, the biggest problem with spider veins is their conspicuous appearance: Many women and men opt to have them removed for purely cosmetic reasons.
Sclerotherapy is the gold-standard treatment solution for lower extremity spider veins that appear across your thighs, behind your knees, along your calves, around your ankles, or on the tops of your feet. It’s also ideal for facial spider veins and small to mid-sized varicose leg veins. At Somerset Surgical Associates, Varithena® is one type of sclerosing agent we offer.
During a sclerotherapy treatment, we use a thin needle to inject a chemical solution directly into the problematic vein. The ablative liquid irritates the lining of the targeted vein, causing it to swell shut. As your blood reroutes itself into healthy nearby veins, the targeted spider vein network collapses, forms into scar tissue, and eventually fades away.