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Are varicose veins and spider veins the same?

August 7, 2018 • jake • vein treatment

Almost everybody knows someone who has mentioned a problem with varicose veins or spider veins.  All too often, there is confusion about whether these are the same type of abnormal vessels.  While both have a great deal in common, understanding their differences is helpful to patients as they consider varicose and spider vein treatment options.

Similarities and Differences

Both types of veins develop for the same reason, according to the SUNY Upstate Medical University.  The job of valves in leg veins is to keep blood headed upward to the heart from succumbing to gravity and falling backward. 

Aging, carrying excess weight, a leg injury, genetics, or sitting or standing for extended periods can cause valves to become incompetent.  Once a valve becomes damaged or flabby, blood falls backward behind it.  Blood that pools stretches vein walls, sometimes resulting in a varicose or a spider vein.

Both spider and varicose veins are cosmetic concerns for many patients.  However, varicose veins sometimes cause pain and significant medical complications beyond cosmetic issues.  These blue or purple vessels can result in a rash, a painful ulcer, or leg cramping or throbbing.

A spider vein is smaller than its varicose cousin and develops closer to the skin’s surface.  The most common sites are the legs and the face, particularly in very sunny regions.  Usually red or blue, these vessels take their name from the weblike pattern they often form.  In most cases, treatment for a spider vein problem is a cosmetic procedure.

Vein Treatment Options

Fortunately, treatment for abnormal veins has never been easier or more convenient for patients.  Many individuals are able to manage their vein problems as the result of conservative treatments such as shedding excess weight, avoiding extended periods of sitting or standing, and wearing compression stockings.

When conservative measures fail to achieve the desired results, however, a vein specialist can offer a number of options to remove problem veins.  These procedures typically occur at a vein clinic or other outpatient facility. 

The Cleveland Clinic notes that most treatment options for varicose veins are minimally invasive procedures.  Examples are endovenous laser ablation, ambulatory phlebectomy, laser therapy, and sclerotherapy for varicose vessels that are relatively small in size.

The most common spider vein treatment is sclerotherapy.  A vein doctor injects a special solution that causes targeted veins to seal shut.  Laser therapy is useful for treating fine vessels with all skin types and generally takes less than 30 minutes.  Most patients are able to resume normal daily activities as soon as they return home.  Sometimes physicians combine laser therapy with sclerotherapy for optimal results.

While these varicose and spider vein treatments are highly effective, they cannot prevent new abnormal vessels from forming.  For this reason, some patients opt to return periodically for additional treatment sessions.

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