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Varicose Veins and Spider Veins Explained

As you age, it’s common for you to start noticing more visible veins, especially on your legs. When you start seeing these bumpy veins, you may wonder if they’re varicose veins or spider veins and whether or not you should be concerned about them. Here at Advanced Cardiovascular Care, Dr. Bokhari and Dr. Popa-Radu treat these conditions, so we wanted to share basic information on both kinds of veins.

Are these veins normal?

It’s estimated that more than half of women and up to 45% of men in the United States suffer from one of these vein problems. And varicose veins can be found in half of all people over the age of 50. So yes -- these are kind of normal, particularly as you age.

The difference between varicose and spider veins

Varicose veins might appear as red, blue, or flesh-colored. One quality that is unique to varicose veins is that they’re always enlarged, which means they might be swollen and raised above the surface of your skin. It’s common for you to notice varicose veins on your thighs, the inside of your legs, or on the back of your calves. During pregnancy, they might even pop up around your vagina or buttocks.

Spider veins are similar to varicose veins, but they’re smaller, thinner, and appear closer to the surface of the skin. These veins may be red or blue and often look like a spider web just under the skin. Spider veins vary in size, sometimes staying tiny in size and number and other times covering a large area, but they’re typically not raised above the skin.

The causes

To understand why these vein abnormalities happen, it helps to grasp the normal function of your heart, arteries, and veins. Your heart pumps nutrient-rich and oxygen-filled blood to your body through arteries. Veins carry this blood back to the heart. Your leg muscles help to push blood back up to the heart by contracting or squeezing.

Veins have tiny valves that keep the blood from flowing backward and collecting, a condition known as venous insufficiency. As you age, these valves weaken, which can allow blood to back up in the veins and cause spider or varicose veins. Spider veins can also be caused by hormones, injuries, and sun exposure.

Why do I have these vein problems?

There are few things that put you at a higher risk of developing vein issues. These include:


TYour genes might have a bit to do with these veins. It’s estimated that about half of people with vein conditions report a relative or two who has them too.


The valves in your veins weaken as a typical part of aging.


Your blood volume increases during pregnancy, which might make it more difficult for veins and valves to work correctly. As your baby grows, there’s more pressure in your abdomen, which can also cause the veins in your legs to swell and bulge.


Sitting on standing for long periods of time increases the pressure in your legs, weakening the valves and allowing blood to pool.


Your hormone levels fluctuate throughout your whole life. These changes can put you at a higher risk of vein issues.

Sun exposure

If you’re fair-skinned, too much sun exposure can lead to spider veins on your cheeks or nose.

Should I be concerned?

Spider veins rarely lead to other concerning issues, but they might make your legs itch or burn. In rare instances, spider veins can be a sign of blood backing up in your veins.

Varicose veins are more serious than spider veins. It’s common to experience discomfort, such as throbbing or aching pain, in the area where the varicose veins appear. Your varicose veins could be something more severe if you experience:


Because varicose veins are right under the surface of your skin, they might be easily injured if you bump them. This can lead to bleeding under the skin that may need to be monitored or treated.

Sores or ulcers

If you struggle with chronic varicose veins, you might be at risk of developing sores or other open areas./span>

Blood clots

When blood backs up in these enlarged veins, it’s an excellent location for blood clots to form. Clots can range from superficial to deep, but both are serious health concerns that require treatment. Common signs of blood clots include pain, redness, and warmth over the area of the clot.

If you’re struggling with varicose or spider veins, perhaps it’s time to be seen by one of our specialists. Book your appointment online today or call our office in Riverside, California.

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