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What is the difference between varicose veins and spider veins?

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Believe it or not, both varicose and spider veins have similar causes. These  diseased veins are given different names (varicose or spider) mostly  because of their  size. Patients usually have more symptoms  when  the deeper, larger  veins are malfunctioning and varicose veins are present.  Symptoms can  include pain,  aching, heaviness and swelling of the legs.   Spider veins can also be symptomatic,  but usually cause more localized tenderness as well as burning and itching symptoms.

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The size of the broken vein is what determines the way it looks on the outside of the leg .  The larger veins will appear to bulge and can be as large as finger-sized  twisting veins; these are referred to as varicose veins.

Lottie Espinosa (3)

 

Tiny veins that have a similar twisted and abnormal appearance are referred to as reticular and spider veins. These smaller veins sometimes can be blue, purple or even red in color.  So spider veins and varicose veins have similar etiologies or causes but have a different appearance depending on the diameter of the vessel.

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Frequently patients who have spider veins or reticular veins that are prominent also have varicose veins.   Venous insufficiency in the bigger veins then  results in the spider vein condition.  Patients  who have spider veins that are prominent around the ankles should be checked for venous insufficiency which results from large vein disease.  Many patients are surprised to learn that their spider veins are a result of a varicose vein, of which they were unaware.   In such a case, both the varicose vein treatment as well as the spider vein treatment would be covered by insurance.

The venous system is like a tree with its trunk and many branches. The trunk of the tree are the main veins that primarily return blood to the heart. Back to the tree comparison,  there are  larger branches on the tree which branch off into smaller branches and then again into even smaller branches. The veins in  the lower extremities  are very similar. With each branching of the veins,  the veins become smaller and smaller.  Veins that we see in our legs are usually the small skin veins.  Normal skin veins are not visible beneath the skin because they are functioning properly.  With time and age and usage the valves in the veins begin to malfunction.   As a result blood flow in the vein becomes stagnant and there is a backup of blood into the veins.  The blood backup is what makes the vein bulge and stick out, becoming  more visible and beginning  to dilate and become tortuous.

Except in extremely rare circumstances, healthy veins are not that visible. If you have bulging or prominent veins, you could be suffering from venous insufficiency.