Superficial veins are those that are close to the surface of the skin, often visible just underneath. These veins transport blood to the heart, and as they are so close to the surface, they help the body to stay cool. There are several problems that can affect superficial veins including varicose veins, spider veins, and thrombophlebitis.
Varicose veins are highly visible superficial veins that have become dilated, thickened, and twisted. They most commonly occur on the backs of legs and can be blue, red, or even flesh-toned in color. Caused when the valves that prevent the backward flow of blood become compromised, blood flows back down the vein rather than up, and the vein dilates.
This condition tends to be inherited and often occurs as people get older. Varicose veins can also be influenced by pregnancy, obesity, and prolonged standing. They tend to be mainly a cosmetic problem; however, they can also become itchy and sore. In severe cases, the veins can become inflamed and bleed or can be subject to blood clots.
Treatment for this condition involves elevation of the limbs, compression stockings, and weight loss. Exercise is also encouraged. To remove the superficial veins and get rid of the the problem altogether, options include sclerotherapy, which involves injecting a chemical that destroys the veins, or surgery. Surgery normally involves ligation, avulsion, or complete removal of the vein, although laser therapies are also an option.
Spider veins are similar to varicose veins but occur in smaller superficial veins that are closer to the surface of the skin. Usually occurring in the face and legs, this condition appears as large or small networks or webs of tiny blue or red veins. They are also due to a backup of blood, and are caused by similar issues as varicose veins, but can also be due to sun exposure. Like varicose veins, spider veins are mostly cosmetic, but they can also create an itching or burning sensation. Rarely do they cause pain or become inflamed. They are usually treated with sclerotherapy or surface lasering.
Finally, thrombophlebitis is an inflammation of the superficial veins due to a blood clot. These clots occur due to injury to the vein and are commonly seen at the site of an intravenous line. They can also occur in pregnancy as a result of birth control pills and as a complication of varicose veins. Thrombophlebitis results in a hardening and often a lump at the site of the clot and can feel tender and sore. Although they usually resolve on their own, they need to be monitored to make sure that they don't become significantly inflamed and are usually treated with painkillers, basic anti-inflammatories, and warm compresses or stockings.