Spider Veins and Varicose Veins 101

Millions of people suffer from spider veins and varicose veins, but most don’t know the difference between the two. Below is a simple explanation of the differences and signs you should see a doctor.

What are Spider Veins

Spider veins are broken capillaries, no more than 2 mm in diameter, just below the skin’s surface that can look like spider legs. They are red, purple, or blue, and though rarely a serious health problem, spider veins can cause annoying leg discomfort, including itching or burning.  They can appear throughout your body but often appear on the legs. Heredity plays a key role in developing spider veins. Extensive spider veins can be a sign of blood backup in your body you can’t see on the skin. If that’s the case, you may have symptoms similar to varicose veins.

What are Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins are veins that have become enlarged. They’re usually dark purple or blue and bulge out from the skin. Though they may not have serious implications, varicose veins can cause aching pain, throbbing, and discomfort. Varicose veins can occur throughout the body but are most commonly seen in the legs. In some cases, however, varicose veins can lead to more serious health problems, including:

  • Sores or Skin Ulcers: These are painful and hard to heal. Sores and skins ulcers are caused by chronic (long-term) back-up of blood in the veins. Some won’t heal until the backward blood flow in the vein is repaired.
  • Bleeding: Bleeding occurs when the skin over the veins becomes thin and easily injured. If untreated, the skin can break and significant blood loss becomes a concern.
  • Superficial Thrombophlebitis: Superficial thrombophlebitis is a blood clot that forms in a vein just below the skin. It can cause skin redness, a firm, tender, warm vein, along with pain and swelling.
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis: Deep vein thrombosis is when a blood clot occurs in a deeper vein. It can cause a pulling feeling in the calf, pain, warmth, redness, and swelling. While some deep vein thrombosis has no significant symptoms, if the blood clot travels to the lungs, it can be fatal.

Should You See A Doctor?

Contact a doctor immediately to discuss treatment options if you have any of the following:

  • Swollen, red, or tender veins that are especially painful or warm to the touch
  • You have sores or a rash on the leg or near the ankle
  • The skin on the ankle and calf becomes thick and changes color
  • A varicose vein begins to bleed
  • Leg symptoms interfere with daily activities
  • The appearance of the veins is causing you distress