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Spider veins

Spider veins are enlargements of otherwise invisible blood vessels in the skin that take on a blue or red color. They can be flat or raised, may occur anywhere on the thighs, legs, ankles and feet, and are found in both men and women. Spider veins are the thread-like colored veins most often seen on the surface of the skin. They are most often not as painful as enlarged varicose veins but they are still liable to bleed and worsen without treatment. Spider veins occur most commonly in the legs

but are often seen in the face and elsewhere. These spider veins, medically referred to as telangectasias, will not worsen to the point where they will ever become the large bulging varicose veins

Spider veins and varicose veins are not the same -- and one does not lead to the other. Whereas varicose veins are large, swollen and occur singularly on the legs, spider veins are delicate and tend to be come in cliques. They are, however, caused by similar factors.

Exactly what happens in the body to produce spider veins isn't known for sure, though there are several theories that address possible causes. One theory is that spider veins, which occur near the surface of the skin, are fed by underlying varicose veins too small or embedded too deeply to reach the skin surface. These underlying veins disrupt circulation, causing spider veins to grow above them. Another theory is that spider veins are little arteries that have latched on to the network of veins nearest the skin surface. Because arteries are highly pressurized and the surface veins have low pressure, the combination of the arterial blood (oxygenated blood flowing to the heart) with the venal blood (deoxygenated blood flowing away from the heart) causes spider veins to be visible.

Although the cause of spider veins is not actually known, they may have their basis in heredity or hormones, especially estrogen. Many times spider veins occur together with varicose veins. While many patients seek treatment for cosmetic improvement, others are looking for relief from discomfort. Spider veins are formed by the dilation of the small veins under the surface of the skin, mostly on the legs. They look like red or purple sunbursts or web patterns. Spider veins are also referred to as telangiectasia or broken capillaries. They usually pose no health hazard but may produce a dull aching or burning in the legs after prolonged standing.

Support hose and weight loss are often mentioned as ways to prevent or treat spider veins but do not necessarily improve the condition. The only real treatment for these vessels is to eradicate them. The preferred treatment is injecting a solution into the vein that causes the vein to contract. The process is called sclerotherapy.

Sclerotherapy is almost painless and improves the appearance but it does not prevent new spider veins from developing in the future. While lasers are frequently used to eliminate spider veins on the face, they are generally not as effective as sclerotherapy on veins in the arms and legs. Sclerotherapy is still the best and safest treatment for spider veins. It causes minimal discomfort. A concentrated salt (saline) or specially developed chemical solution is injected with a very small needle into the spider vein. This pickles the inside of the vein so it closes up. It later collapses and becomes scar tissue that eventually is absorbed by the body.

Sclerotherapy generally requires multiple treatment sessions. Post-treatment therapy includes wearing compression bandages or support hose for two days to three weeks following treatment. Although sclerotherapy works for current spider veins, it does not prevent future ones from developing.

There are several ways to treat spider veins on the face. Lasers have been used successfully, alone or in combination with electric needle therapy. The heat from the high intensity laser beam or intense pulsed light device selectively destroys the abnormal veins. It is best for tiny veins in fair skinned people. With the electric needle, the veins are sealed off with the application of electrical current.

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All information is intended for reference only. Please consult your physician for accurate medical advices and treatment. Copyright 2005,, all rights reserved. Last update: July 18, 2005