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What is the Difference Between Spider and Varicose Veins?

J.M. Willhite
J.M. Willhite

Enlarged veins that appear discolored and are raised to the skin's surface are known as varicose veins. A less pronounced presentation of varicose veins, known as spider veins, affects the more superficial blood vessels that supply the capillaries with oxygenated blood. When strain is placed on circulatory function, either condition may present depending on the severity of the stress. Considered a more serious presentation of the two, varicose veins generally prompt treatment that may include the implementation of proactive lifestyle measures to reduce vein pressures, compression stockings to promote circulatory function and, in some cases, more advanced treatment that can include surgery.

Spider and varicose veins present when the muscles that work to promote circulation fail to contract properly and usher blood through the circulatory system. When functioning normally, valves within the veins work similar to gates by opening and closing to allow proper blood flow. Muscles surrounding the veins expand and contract guiding blood through the circulatory system, essentially to and from the heart. In the presence of weakness or a loss of elasticity, muscle and valve function can become jeopardized, allowing blood to accumulate rather than circulate and ultimately compromising proper blood flow leading to vein enlargement.

Varicose veins appear discolored and bulge out of the skin.
Varicose veins appear discolored and bulge out of the skin.

Unlike varicose veins, spider veins are more of a cosmetic concern than a troubling and potentially painful medical condition. Resting just below the skin's surface, spider veins take their moniker from the web-like appearance they tend to adopt. Often forming in clusters, spider veins are thin, blue or red lines that usually manifest on the lower extremities, such as one’s thighs or calves. Generally, spider veins create more annoyance than they do discomfort; especially if they form on the face, specifically the nose or cheeks.

Compression stockings can reduce the discomfort caused by varicose veins.
Compression stockings can reduce the discomfort caused by varicose veins.

Individuals of advanced age are usually at the greatest risk for developing spider and varicose veins. Those whose occupations require that they stand or sit for long periods of time may also be at an increased risk for spider and varicose veins. Regularly taking breaks and periodically moving around not only promotes proper circulation, but reduces vein strain. Additional factors, such as pregnancy and obesity, may also compromise vein function leading to the development of spider and varicose veins.

A physical examination and consultation is generally enough to confirm a spider and varicose vein diagnosis. In addition to discussing one’s symptoms, he or she may be asked to remain seated or to stand so that swelling and discoloration may be further evaluated. In the presence of moderate to severe symptoms, an ultrasound may be utilized to evaluate vein function, assess circulation, and check for blood clot formation.

Normally, the developmental stages of spider and varicose veins cause no discomfort or pain. The affected veins may appear closer to the skin's surface adopting a bulging appearance that looks worse than it feels. With time, the presence of spider and varicose veins can worsen and induce additional symptoms that result from exposure to continued undue stressors that compromise vein function.

Individuals with varicose veins often develop discomfort that presents as burning, aching, or heaviness in the affected area, such as lower legs. When varicose veins present in the lower extremities, some may find it difficult to stand or sit for very long without experiencing discomfort. As the condition progresses, symptomatic individuals may experience itching or the lesion formation that manifests in the ankle area. Lesion development is generally indicative of a much more serious condition that should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional.

In situations where pregnancy has induced symptoms, a wait and see approach is generally utilized and, with time, the symptoms subside without treatment. Proactive measures to reduce one’s weight, such as regular exercise and dietary changes, are generally part of any non-invasive treatment plan for obesity-induced varicose veins. Additional measures, including avoiding stressors that worsen symptoms, such as excessive sitting, may be recommended. The use of compression stockings are also frequently recommended to promote proper circulation and alleviate symptoms.

When traditional, non-invasive treatments do not reduce or ease symptoms more invasive treatment may be necessary. Surgical procedures may be utilized to varying degrees involving vein closure, elimination, or removal to ease one’s condition. As a rule, symptom severity dictates the invasiveness of surgical approach and each procedure carries its own risks, which should be discussed with a qualified health care provider prior to pursuing any surgical treatment option.

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    • Varicose veins appear discolored and bulge out of the skin.
      By: roblan
      Varicose veins appear discolored and bulge out of the skin.
    • Compression stockings can reduce the discomfort caused by varicose veins.
      By: nito
      Compression stockings can reduce the discomfort caused by varicose veins.