Varicose veins are enlarged veins which most commonly appear in the legs. They may appear bluish, red, or flesh colored, and are ropy or twisted looking in appearance.
Veins have valves that prevent blood from flowing the wrong way. The movement of the leg muscles helps move the blood back toward the heart, and the valves prevent the blood from backflowing. When these valves become incompetent and no longer function correctly, the blood pools in the legs, causing varicose veins. There are several factors that contribute to the development of varicose veins:
- Increasing age
- Family history of varicose veins
- Sitting or standing for long periods of time without moving around
Varicose veins may cause throbbing, cramping, or aching pain in the legs. The legs often become swollen as well. Varicose veins are a medical problem, and insurance will cover treatment for varicose veins that are symptomatic. Varicose veins are treated by a vein specialist (phlebologist) or a vascular surgeon.
In comparison to varicose veins, spider veins are much smaller (see image below) and are present just under the surface of the skin. They may appear in any area of the body, but most commonly appear on the legs and on the face. Spider veins are also caused by a backup of blood. They commonly appear in association with varicose veins, but may also appear in people without varicose veins. Spider veins are commonly associated with
- Hormone changes. Spider veins often appear during pregnancy.
- Damage to the skin. Spider veins may appear near the site of a trauma such as a cut to the skin, or a surgical site.
The good news is that effective treatment options are available for both spider veins and varicose veins. The Women’s Health webpage put out by the Department of Health and Human Services has a great information page if you’d like to find out more.