What are Spider Veins and What Causes Them?

By: Dzhingarov

Have you had veins recently become visible on your legs? What are they and how did they get there? Spider Veins are terms commonly used to describe smaller red or blue colored blood vessels that are easily perceptible through the skin.  The medical term for spider veins is Telangiectasia. The veins often appear as twisted or tangled threads, resembling spider webs or tree branches.  Spider veins generally arise on the individual’s legs or facial area and can affect either a small or large region of the skin.

To an untrained eye, what are also frequently perceived as spider veins, are in fact not spider veins at all, instead they are a medical condition, identified as varicose veins. Varicose veins are enlarged swollen blood vessels that are raised above the skins surface. The veins can be a blue, purple or red color and look as if they are twisted or bulging cords. They often develop on the thighs, back of the calves or interior side of the leg. Varicose veins can also surface around a woman’s vagina and buttock area during pregnancy.

Vein Specialists categorize vein abnormalities by examining their diameter.  Spider veins generally measure to be one millimeter or less and varicose veins progress to be three millimeters or more. Both vein conditions can be a cosmetic issue or they can be indicators of more serious venous disorders or chronic vein deficiencies.

Spider veins evolve as the blood is backed-up in the vessels causing the veins to become enlarged, filled with stagnant blood and visible to the human eye. One of the main causes of Spider veins includes female hormone estrogen and progesterone changes, triggering veins to dilate. Other common causes involve excessive sun exposure and injuries or trauma to the skin.

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By National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (Varicous veins.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (Varicous veins.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Varicose veins can be stimulated by damaged or weak valves in the veins. As the heart pumps blood, oxygen and nutrients are delivered through the arteries to the entire body. The blood is then transported through the veins from parts of the body back to the heart. Varicose veins are most common in an individual’s legs because as you tighten your leg muscles the blood in your legs is pushed back to your heart against the course of gravity. The veins carrying the blood from the lower part of your body contain valves that act as “one-way flaps,” in effort to prevent blood from flowing backwards. If the valves are damaged or become weak, the blood can escape back into the veins of the legs. As the blood collects and becomes backed-up, the veins swell and elevate above the skin’s surface, becoming varicose.

There are several factors contributing to an individual’s susceptibility of spider or varicose veins. The venous condition can be heredity or predisposed from a history of blood clots or the use of birth control. The veins may also be influenced by obesity or consistent standing for long periods of time.

Spider veins and Varicose veins are primarily found in women, however men are also at risk. The venous disease’s frequency of occurrence increases with age. An estimated 55% of adults suffer from one form of venous problems and approximately half of people age 50 or older are affected by Varicose Veins.