What Causes Surface Veins?

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Although surface veins, also called spider veins, usually pose no medical threat, their appearance becomes a significant cosmetic issue for some patients.  Many people do not even notice these tiny red or blue vessels until they form clusters resembling a spider’s web.  Understanding the vein disease process that causes them as well as the vein treatments available to eliminate them helps put affected patients at ease.

What Are Spider Veins?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, spider veins are similar to but distinct from varicose veins.  These two vascular problems affect as many as 50 percent of American adults.  They are slightly more common in the female than in the male population. 

The medical name for a spider vein is a telangiectasia.  A cluster is most likely to develop on the legs, ankles, or face.

The job of one-way valves in veins is to keep blood traveling against gravity toward the heart from the extremities.  When a valve becomes defective, whether because of injury or vein disease, it can no longer close correctly.  This causes blood to fall backward and pool behind the valve.  As the pool grows, it expands the blood vessel, often resulting in a varicose or a spider vein.

Many factors can contribute to spider vein formation:

  • Genetics
  • Aging
  • Occupation or lifestyle that includes prolonged standing
  • Carrying extra weight
  • Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy
  • Birth control pills
  • Hormone replacement therapy following menopause
  • Sitting with legs crossed for long intervals
  • Tight clothing
  • Health history that includes blood clots
  • Specific vein injury
  • Certain medical conditions, among them liver disease
  • Earlier vein surgery
  • Exposure to ultraviolet rays
  • Topical steroid use

Spider Vein Treatments

Since spider and varicose veins do not disappear on their own, resolution requires eliminating them.  This involves an outpatient treatment performed by vein specialists.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center notes that the two most common therapies are laser treatment and sclerotherapy.  Transdermal laser therapy, also called pulsed light therapy, uses light energy to close targeted vessels.  Sclerotherapy involves injecting a special substance that irritates vein walls and causes the vessel to eventually close. 

With both treatments, neighboring blood vessels pick up the circulatory workload of each eliminated vein.  These therapies offer patients the convenience of quickly getting back to work or resuming other typical daily activities.

It is important to note that no surface vein treatment can prevent abnormal vessels from forming in the future.  However, the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery suggests that patients with these problem veins can take steps to reduce their chances of developing new unwanted vessels.  They include:

  • Staying as active as possible
  • Avoiding standing or sitting for extended intervals
  • Getting to a healthy weight and then maintaining it
  • Wearing compression stockings
  • Avoiding exposure of the legs to excessive heat
  • Foregoing undergarments and other clothing with a restrictive fit