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Many people suffer from vein disorders in their legs —two of the most common ones are varicose and spider veins. While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there are actually substantial differences between the two.

Here are just a few of the main differences between the two vein types, as well as the most effective treatment methods.

Appearance

Varicose veins are large, often causing a bulge underneath the surface of the skin. They also have a blue or purple tint. Spider veins, on the other hand, are small and thin. They get their name from the way they branch out, like a spiderweb.

Spider veins often appear red or purple, and they may have a bruise-like appearance. These type of veins can be reduced with creams designed to boost circulation.

Causes

varicose veins
The main cause of varicose veins is malfunctioning valves in your veins. These valves normally limit blood flow to only one direction — from the legs to the heart. Sometimes, the valves malfunction, allowing blood to move backward, into the legs.1

This venous insufficiency increases the pressure on the veins, weakening them. Eventually, varicose veins will form. They may begin to protrude and seem twisted, or curved.

Spider veins are usually caused by genetics.2 If your grandparents or parents had them, there’s a good chance you’ll have them as well. But there are other factors that can increase your risk — including obesity and sitting or standing for long periods of time.

The Potential Consequences

Both spider veins and varicose veins are troublesome from a cosmetic standpoint. However, both types of disorders can result in physical symptoms as well.

Varicose vein symptoms include pressure, aching, and a feeling of heaviness in the legs. Swelling can sometimes occur as well.3 Spider veins don’t usually result in physical symptoms. However, in some people they can cause itching, swelling, and a rash.4

Diagnosing a Vein Disorder

In order to diagnose a disorder such as varicose veins, doctors first perform a physical examination. This will usually require you to stand while the doctor checks your legs for swelling. You’ll also need to tell the doctor if you’ve experienced any sort of pain in your legs.

There’s also a chance you’ll undergo an ultrasound test. The purpose of the test will be to check the valves in the veins in your legs for venous insufficiency, and to see if they’re working correctly.

Th2s isn’t like a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test, though. The doctor simply uses a handheld device against the skin in the area of the leg that’s giving you trouble. This device, known as a transducer, sends images of your legs to a monitor.

Treatment Options

varicose vein before after

There are several effective treatment options for both spider veins and varicose veins. Even better, treatment usually doesn’t require any sort of extended hospital stay — and it usually doesn’t take too long to recover. (Before anything, though, your doctor will try a less invasive treatment method. He or she might recommend lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or getting more exercise.)

Another thing you can do to reduce discomfort due is to keep your legs elevated and avoid wearing tight clothes. If you can avoid sitting or standing for a long time, that could also help.

Another thing you can try is wearing compression stockings. These gently squeeze your legs to help improve blood flow. You can get them at just about any pharmacy, but some types of compression stockings are only available through a prescription.

If these methods don’t work, a more aggressive type of treatment may be needed. These are some of the more common treatment types:

1. Sclerotherapy:

This is one of the least invasive methods of treating spider veins and varicose veins. Sclerotherapy involves the injection of a liquid solution or foam into the problem vein. This method is designed to gradually close the vein, so that it eventually disappears. No anesthesia is needed, and the procedure can usually be performed in the doctor’s office, rather than at a hospital.5

2. Vein stripping:

Vein stripping involves tying off a problem vein at the area just before it meets a larger vein. Small incisions are then used to remove it. There’s no danger of circulation issues with vein stripping, because the larger veins will be able to keep your blood moving properly.6

3. Endovenous laser treatment:

endovenous laser treatment

This treatment method uses bursts of light to close small spider and varicose veins, which eventually disappear. The doctor doesn’t need to make any incisions for this particular method.

Avoiding Spider and Varicose Veins

There are a few things you can do to help either prevent vein disorders or reduce your discomfort. Walking, for example, can help improve circulation and lower your risk. Losing weight can relieve pressure from the veins in your legs, as can avoiding wearing clothing that puts pressure on your groin or waist. Also, try to avoid sitting with your legs crossed — it is believed that doing so can heighten your risk of circulation issues.7

The Last Word

Problem veins in your legs can be unsightly and cause minor discomfort. Fortunately, however, they usually don’t lead to severe problems. Even if you need to get treatment, you very likely will be able to do so in your doctor’s office and quickly get back to your daily routine.

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Sources
1. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/heart-and-blood-vessel-disorders/venous-disorders/varicose-veins
2. http://advancingyourhealth.org/heartblog/2015/09/02/is-there-a-difference-between-spider-veins-and-varicose-veins/
3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/varicose-veins/symptoms-causes/syc-20350643
4. https://www.healthline.com/health/spider-veins#Overview1
5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/sclerotherapy/home/ovc-20167803
6. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/varicose-veins/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350649
7. https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-prevent-varicose-veins