An introduction to spider veins

To gain an understanding of spider veins themselves, you need to get to grips with the basics. Spider veins are made up of the smallest blood vessels in your body called capillaries and are visible only under a microscope. They are located just beneath the skin’s surface, forming a network across your body, and can play an essential role in regulating its temperature.
In some cases, instead of flowing freely, blood can collect in these capillaries forming bulges. This damage can lead to the appearance of thin, wiry blue, or red lines called spider veins, which appear near the surface of the skin.
You’ll most likely find spider veins on your legs or face, and in most cases, they are absolutely harmless. However, we’ve put together this guide in order to help your understanding of what they are and why they develop in the first place.

What are spider veins?

In the average adult body, there are a staggering 100,000 miles of blood vessels or capillaries. This internal engineering system helps blood to flow in one direction throughout the entire body, moving it to and from the heart.
Like much in the human body, over time things can go wrong and we may develop problems with our capillaries. The medical term for broken capillaries is ‘telangiectasia veins’, but they are also referred to as spider veins or thread veins. They’ve earned this less than flattering name simply because they look very similar in appearance to a spider web.
The good news is, while spider veins may not look attractive, they don’t pose any health risks. However, if you have veins that are warm to the touch, are painful, or are bleeding or if you find that you are also developing rashes or ulcers, or the skin on your calf and ankle is changing colour, then make sure you make an appointment with your doctor1.

How do spider veins develop?

There’s an ongoing debate among medical professionals about how and why spider veins develop. The truth is, it is currently unknown. What we do know is that some people are more likely to develop spider veins than others. Those at higher risk include women, the elderly, the overweight, or those who spend a lot of time on their feet2.
Spider veins are also more common in those experiencing natural hormonal changes brought on by puberty, pregnancy, and the menopause. Artificial hormonal changes created by the use of birth control pills, or Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) can also lead to their development8. However, if you have any concerns it is vitally important you consult your GP first before considering coming off birth control measures or seeking an alternative to HRT.
Interestingly, genetics may also be a factor in the development of spider veins, with spider veins often being linked to hereditary chronic venous diseases7.
Whatever the cause, it’s important to recognise that spider veins, and their bigger brother varicose veins, are common. In fact, the NHS estimates that 1 in 3 of us will experience a form of varicose veins at some point in our lives — with women over 50 being the most at risk.

can I tell if I have spider veins?

You might start to notice spider veins appearing in patches on the skin of the legs or face. Over time, they can appear more prominent and spread over a larger span of skin, forming a more detailed and intricate web.
Spider veins are pretty easy to see, and most people do not feel the need to seek a medical diagnosis, but if you do choose to visit your GP it’s likely only to involve only a short physical examination.
Many people either miss the signs of spider vein development, or they choose to ignore them. The reality is that the earlier that you identify spider veins, the better your chances are of improving their appearance.

A natural approach

Spider veins are more likely to appear in those who are overweight and/or smokers, so it’s worth considering making healthy changes to your lifestyle if possible. More specifically, specialists have suggested people who adopt an anti-inflammatory diet, rich in antioxidants, may also reduce their risk of developing spider veins. So try to include plenty of polyphenols (plant compounds) in the form of fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, olives and particularly dark skinned fruits rich in a particular plant compound called anthocyanidins.

Opting for treatment

If you already have spider veins, you may wish to explore what medical treatment options are available to you. Treatments include laser surgery where short pulses of laser light are used to destroy smaller blood vessels. An alternative to this is sclerotherapy, which involves a trained professional injecting a solution directly into the vein, which causes them to close.
Tackling spider veins can help to improve your self-confidence and general health. To find out more about combating spider veins and advice on general vein health please explore take a look around our website or to one of our Nutrition Advisors..

References
1.National Institute for Clinical Excellence (2014). Varicose Veins Clinical Knowledge Summaries. https://cks.nice.org.uk/varicose-veins#!scenario
2. Jones, R.H. and Carek, P.J. (2008) Management of varicose veins. American Family Physician78 (11), 1289-1294.
3. Bagchi D1, Sen CK, Bagchi M, Atalay M. (2004) Anti-angiogenic, antioxidant, and anti-carcinogenic properties of a novel anthocyanin-rich berry extract formula. Biochemistry (Mosc). 2004 Jan;69(1):75-80, 1 p preceding 75.
4. Michaels, J.A., Campbell, W.B., Brazier, J.E. et al. (2006) Randomised clinical trial, observational study and assessment of cost-effectiveness of the treatment of varicose veins (REACTIV trial).Health Technology Assessment.
5. Brittenden, J et al. (2015) Clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of foam sclerotherapy, endovenous laser ablation and surgery for varicose veins: results from the Comparison of Laser, Surgery and foam Sclerotherapy (CLASS) randomised controlled trial. Health Technol Assess. 2015 Apr;19(27):1-342. doi: 10.3310/hta19270.
6. Subramonia, S. and Lees, T.A. (2007) The treatment of varicose veins. Ann R Coll R Engl. doi: 10.1308/003588407X168271
7. Fiebic A, Krushe P, Wolf A, et al. Heritability of chronic venous disease. Hum Genet. 2010;127(6):669-74. Accessed 22 February 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2871097/
8. UK Healthcare Centre Causes of thread veins http://www.healthcentre.org.uk/cosmetic-treatments/thread-veins-causes.html

Lawrie Jones

Lawrie Jones

Lawrie is an experienced medical content specialist and strategist, having worked for NHS Bristol and a number of medical-based charities.