The two most common types of vein problems are varicose veins and spider veins. Both types of vein problems are generally harmless, however in some individuals they may result from an underlying medical problem called chronic venous insufficiency. Gender, age, heredity, and lifestyle factors can also contribute the development and prevalence of both varicose veins and spider veins. Continue reading to learn about the various causes, signs, symptoms and complications of varicose veins and spider veins, as well as other less common vein problems.
Varicose veins affect 15 percent of men and 25 percent of women in the United States. They occur most frequently in the legs due to pressure from standing and walking, but any vein in the body can become varicose. In healthy veins, the muscles surrounding the vein support the vein in returning blood to the heart. This process requires the veins to work against gravity. The veins contain internal valves that prevent against reverse blood flow. For reasons that are not fully understood these internal valves can become defective or damaged. When this happens the valve allows blood to flow backwards back into the vein, and swelling results as the vein becomes engorged with excess blood. Varicose veins usually have a purple or blue appearance and look like they are bulging out from the body.
Common signs and symptoms of varicose veins include:
- Heavy feeling in the legs
- Aching legs, especially in the evening and after exercising
- Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
- Swollen ankles
- Discoloration of skin around the ankles
- Discoloration of skin surface surrounding problem vein areas
- Cramping in the legs and ankles
- Increased healing time of bruising and minor injuries
- Skin problems on the legs
- Development of spider veins
For the majority of sufferers, varicose veins are an unsightly and unpleasant, but relatively benign, part of life. Some people have difficulty walking and standing for long periods of time, which can make working difficult. Tenderness near the afflicted vein or veins is also somewhat common. While the varicose veins themselves don’t cause extensive problems, they can lead to a variety of troublesome side-effects including a predisposition to skin loss due to dermatitis and other rashes, skin ulcers, severe bleeding, and fat necrosis. Issues with blood clotting are another side-effect of varicose veins. They are not very common and typically occur within superficial veins. However, clotting can be dangerous and even life-threatening if not treated properly, especially when it occurs in deep varicose veins.
Varicose Veins occur more often in women than men, and the chances of a vein becoming varicose increases with age. The main risk factor for developing varicose veins is a genetic predisposition. Other factors that contribute to the development of varicose veins include pregnancy, obesity, prolonged standing, leg injuries, frequent crossing of the legs at the knees or ankles, and abdominal straining.
Spider veins refer to small blood vessels located near the surface of the skin and mucous membranes. The blood vessels become dilated and can easily be seen through the skin. The veins usually have a red or purple appearance and look like spider webs or tree branches. On the legs, spider veins usually form in the thigh area, around the knees, and near the ankles. Spider veins are quite commonly found on the nose, cheeks, and chin as well. The scientific term for spider veins is telangiectasia.
Spider veins are easily identifiable because of their proximity to the skin’s surface. As a general rule spider veins are relatively harmless and do not cause pain or other ill effects, however the presence of spider veins in the legs may be an indicator of varicose vein problems. The spider veins develop due to abnormal blood flow patterns in medium size leg veins, in other words, veins that have become varicose.
Similar to to varicose veins, spider veins have a hereditary component. Other risk factors for developing spider veins are age, obesity, lifestyle factors, and pregnancy. These factors are specifically related to spider veins in the legs.
Sometimes spider veins form on the face and trunk. In these cases the development of the spider veins is not related to age, weight and lifestyle. Skin damage due to acne rosacea, sun or cold, trauma from injury or surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, carcinoid syndrome, CREST syndrome, and chronic use of corticosteroids applied topically can contribute to the development of spider veins in areas other than the legs.
Although varicose veins and spider veins are the most common, other vein problems do occur as well. Venous ulcers, also known as stasis ulcers and varicose ulcers, are flesh wounds that can form due to improper circulation and varicose vein problems. The primary concern with varicose ulcers is the chance of infection due to the presence of an open wound.
Deep venous thrombosis, also known as deep vein thrombosis and DVT is the formation of blood clots in a deep vein. The primary concern with deep vein thrombosis is the risk of blood clots becoming dislodged from a deep leg or pelvic vein and traveling to the lungs, heart, or brain.In the majority of cases spider veins and varicose veins do not result in serious health complications, however it is important to consult with a vein care professional to discuss the best care and treatments for your varicose veins and spider veins.
Treatment of varicose veins and spider veins varies depending on the severity and location of the problem veins. There are a variety of treatment options available including non-invasive, non-surgical, and surgical methods of treatment. In many cases treatment of varicose veins and spider veins is not covered by insurance because it is considered a cosmetic procedure, however if there is a documented history of medical problems and pain resulting from the vein problems, treatment may be covered. This issue is one to discuss with your doctor and health care provider. Regardless of insurance, your 1-800-VEIN-DOC vein care professional can advise you on the proper course of action for your vein health.