Is There a Difference Between Spider Veins and Varicose Veins?

legs (1)Though spider veins and varicose veins are both classified as vein disorders, there are some distinct differences between them.

What do They Look Like?

Spider veins are small, wispy, web-like veins on the skin surface, usually less than one millimeter in diameter. They may be purple or red, and often appear in clusters or nests, which may look like a bruise. Varicose veins are larger veins, which often have a blue color and generally bulge under the skin. Both types of veins are visible and one of the primary treatment goals is an improvement in cosmetic appearance.

What Causes Spider Veins and Varicose Veins?

Spider veins are usually inherited. Obesity, female hormones and prolonged sitting or standing are also contributing factors. Varicose veins are most often a result of valves that function incorrectly. Normal valves allow blood to flow in only one direction—out of the leg and towards the heart. Faulty valves allow blood to flow backward into the leg, increasing pressure in the veins. This increased pressure dilates and elongates the vein, causing it to protrude and appear curved or twisted.

Do These Veins Cause Problems?

Spider veins do not usually cause symptoms, and are primarily treated to improve appearance. Varicose veins often cause heaviness, aching or pressure. They can also cause fatigue, and sometimes restless or jittery legs and itching. Swelling may be a result of vein insufficiency, but, often involves malfunctioning veins deep in the leg as well. Relief of discomfort is the reason most varicose veins are treated.

How Are Varicose Veins Treated?

Varicose veins are almost always treated in the office with minimally invasive techniques. Sclerotherapy—the injection of a dilute solution into the vein, shutting it down—can be used to treat smaller veins, while larger veins may also be treated with sclerotherapy, ablation of faulty veins and excision or mini-phlebectomy (removal) are also commonly performed treatments. The goal is to divert blood from abnormal veins into nearby normal veins, which easily accommodate the extra load. These procedures involve minimal pain and little or no down time. If you are interested in treating your spider or varicose veins, please call the Emory Vein Center for treatment by a board certified vascular surgeon.

About Dr. Rheudasil

rheudasil-j-mark (1)J. Mark Rheudasil, MD, graduated magna cum laude from Abilene Christian University in Texas and he earned his medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas in 1983. He completed a general surgery internship and residency program at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia and also completed a fellowship in vascular surgery at Emory University in 1989.

Dr. Rheudasil is a board certified vascular surgeon. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a member of the Society for Vascular Surgery and the American Venous Forum. He is also a member the Southern Association for Vascular Surgery and is a past President of the Georgia Vascular Society and the Atlanta Vascular Society.

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  • Delores Lyon

    Thanks for sharing all of this information about spider and varicose veins– it has been really great in helping me determine which types of veins are around my calves! Since the veins I see are more purple, and in little clusters, I think they would be considered spider veins. That means that the valves in my legs are functioning properly too, which is nice to know! Thanks again!