Spider veins (medical term: telangiectasias): Tiny visible veins under the skin
Spider veins (medical term: telangiectasias) are fine, visible, tiny veins in the top layer of the skin. Spider veins are dilated, tiny, surface veins in the leg that are located in the skin’s upper layer. The individual spider veins are mostly only a few centimetres long, but can also cover large areas of the upper and lower leg like a spider’s web. This is why we call them “spider veins".
Small spider veins are light red in colour. As their size increases they take on a bluish appearance. Spider veins are harmless and mostly just a cosmetic/aesthetic issue. However, they can be the first sign of chronic venous disease, which can later result in varicose veins, among other things. Consult your doctor.
Causes: What causes spider veins?
Spider veins and varicose veins are caused by the same things:
- Owing to a functional weakness of the venous valves (valve insufficiency), the blood in the veins – i.e. the blood that is low in oxygen – no longer flows directly towards the heart.
- The blood accumulates in the leg veins where it raises the pressure on the vessel wall (= venous hypertension).
- Congestion occurs in the veins that are affected by this and the vein walls become stretched.
Spider veins at a young age: A warning sign for later years
It’s common to get spider veins as early as at the age of 20. With increasing age, distinct varicose veins, swollen legs and skin changes can also occur. As a worst-case scenario, a venous leg ulcer (ulcus cruris venosum) can develop as a result of the vein weakness. Patients with vein weaknesses also have an increased risk of developing leg vein thrombosis.
Experts estimate that around 60 percent of the population have spider veins1. Women experience this condition more often than men.
Symptoms and signs: Spider veins look like this
Spider veins are easily visible. The tiny veins appear on the upper leg, knee, hollow of the knee, lower leg (particularly calf and ankle) and on the foot. They are not painful. If varicose veins and other symptoms also occur, this may indicate a more serious venous disorder. You should also be aware of these signs:
Spider veins often first appear during pregnancy
Many women first notice spider veins or varicose veins during pregnancy. The venous wall is weakened by hormones released during pregnancy. The expectant mother gains weight. Her body produces more blood and the pressure in her veins increases.
Risk factors for developing spider veins
The risk factors for spider veins are comparable with those of a classic varicose vein condition. Experts distinguish between factors that cannot be influenced and factors that can be influenced:
Factors that cannot be influenced include:
- age-related loss of vein function,
- genetic predisposition and
- hormonal influences that lead to weakening of the venous wall, for example during pregnancy.
Factors that can be influenced include:
- primarily sitting or standing activities,
- being overweight,
- alcohol consumption or
- tight clothing and high heels.
Leading a healthy lifestyle will help your legs to look good.
Preventing or limiting spider veins
The most effective way to prevent spider veins is to minimise the above mentioned influenceable risk factors. Take on the responsibility for your leg health yourself. These tips will support you in doing so:
- Exercise: Lying down and walking is better than sitting and standing: Move around as often as you can. Change your position more often; raise your legs.
- Sport and exercise: Plan ten minutes of vein exercises into your everyday routine to activate your calf muscle pump.
- Healthy diet: How to eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Optimise your weight: Reduce any excess weight.
- Clothing: Wear comfortable, loose clothing.
- Shoes: Choose comfortable, flat shoes so that your calf muscle pump is able to work effectively.
- Showers: Rinse your legs in cold water regularly. This helps the veins contract and improves the blood flow to the heart.
Treatment and removal of spider veins
From a distance, the skin areas affected by spider veins look like bruises; the mesh structure of the tiny veins is only visible if you look more closely. If the appearance of spider veins bothers you, there are several ways of removing them:
- Sclerotherapy for spider veins: Treating the smallest surface veins with sclerotherapy (microsclerotherapy is currently the first choice method).
- Laser treatment for spider veins: Laser treatment is possible for very small, not very pronounced spider veins (percutaneous laser therapy).
Patients with spider veins may also have the first signs and symptoms of a chronic venous condition: If your legs feel heavy and/or tired, itchy or tingly, if you have a feeling of tightness or tend to have swollen legs then medical compression stockings may ease your symptoms.
Medical compression stockings are particularly effective in combination with exercise. Regularly wearing medical compression stockings eases symptoms and can prevent thrombosis.
Which doctors treat spider veins?
You should consult your GP in the outset. If necessary you will be referred to a vein specialist (phlebologist). Phlebologists specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of vascular diseases, particularly venous diseases.
Thanks to their breathable, stretchy material, medical compression stockings are very comfortable for men and women to wear and are adapted to meet your individual needs as a patient. Profit from modern, technologically advanced & tried-and-tested vein therapy with state-of-the-art medical compression stockings. They look the same as classic fine stockings or knee socks for men, but have an additional vein-supporting function.
Find out more about compression stockings by medi here.
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1 Rabe E et al. Bonner Venenstudie der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Phlebologie. Phlebologie 2003;32:1–14.