Spider veins are mild varicose veins. They look like a nest of red or blue lines just under your skin. Spider veins are not a serious medical problem, but they can be a cosmetic concern to some people, and they can cause symptoms of aching pain and itching in others.
What are the symptoms?
If you have varicose veins, your legs may feel heavy, tired, restless, or achy. Standing or sitting for too long may worsen your symptoms. You may also experience night cramps.
You may notice small clusters of veins in a winding pattern on your leg, or soft, slightly tender knots of veins. Sometimes, the skin on your legs may change color, become irritated, or even form sores.
If you have severe varicose veins, you have slightly increased chances of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT may cause sudden, severe leg swelling. DVT is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.
What causes varicose veins?
High blood pressure inside your superficial leg veins causes varicose veins.
Factors that can increase your risk for varicose veins include having a family history of varicose veins, being overweight, not exercising enough, smoking, standing or sitting for long periods of time, or having DVT. Women are more likely than men to develop varicose veins. Varicose veins usually affect people between the ages of 30 and 70.
Pregnant women have an increased risk of developing varicose veins, but the veins often return to normal within 1 year after childbirth. Women who have multiple pregnancies may develop permanent varicose veins.
What tests will I need?
First your physician asks you questions about your general health, medical history, and symptoms. In addition, your physician conducts a physical exam. Together these are known as a patient history and exam. Your physician will examine the texture and color of any prominent veins. He or she may apply a tourniquet or direct hand pressure to observe how your veins fill with blood. To confirm a diagnosis of varicose veins, your physician may order a duplex ultrasound test.
Duplex ultrasound uses painless, high-frequency waves higher than human hearing can detect. Your physician uses duplex ultrasound to measure the speed of blood flow and to see the structure of your leg veins. The test can take approximately 20 minutes for each leg. Besides showing varicose veins, duplex ultrasound may help your physician decide whether your varicose veins could be related to some other condition rather than the veins themselves.
How are varicose veins treated?
Varicose veins may sometimes worsen without treatment. Your physician will first try methods that don't require surgery to relieve your symptoms. If you have mild to moderate varicose veins, elevating your legs can help reduce leg swelling and relieve other symptoms. Your physician may instruct you to prop your feet up above the level of your heart 3 or 4 times a day for about 15 minutes at a time. When you need to stand for a long period of time, you can flex your legs occasionally to allow the venous pump to keep blood moving toward your heart.
For more severe varicose veins, your physician may prescribe compression stockings. Compression stockings are elastic stockings that squeeze your veins and stop excess blood from flowing backward. In this way, compression stockings also can help heal skin sores and prevent them from returning. You may be required to wear compression stockings daily for the rest of your life. For many patients, compression stockings effectively treat varicose veins and may be all that are needed to relieve pain and swelling and prevent future problems.
When these kinds of treatments alone do not relieve your varicose veins, you may require a surgical or minimally invasive treatment, depending upon the extent and severity of the varicose veins. These treatments include sclerotherapy, ablation, vein stripping, and laser treatment.