Approximately 20% of people—and as many as 40% of women—will develop varicose veins or smaller spider veins at some point in their lives.
Many people assume spider veins are a purely cosmetic issue, and they are unsightly. As such, they can restrict a person’s clothing choices and lifestyle.
However, spider veins can also indicate serious underlying conditions and lead to serious complications.
Read on to learn more about the dangers of untreated spider veins and the importance of regular leg veins screening.
What Are Varicose Veins and Spider Veins?
To fully understand spider veins, you should learn about Varicose Vein. Varicose veins describe prominent, twisted veins that appear beneath the skin. Varicose veins are typically raised and blue or purple in color. They most often occur on the legs and feet and are due to blood pools when vein valves fail.
The term “spider veins” refers to the smaller red or blue veins that likewise appear beneath the surface of the skin. While the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they are distinct.
Like varicose veins, spider veins frequently affect the legs. They can also appear on the face.
What Causes Spider Veins?
Spider veins occur when blood builds up in the veins.
The cardiovascular and circulatory systems rely on a network of veins and arteries to transport blood from the heart, throughout the body, and back again. Arteries send nutrient-rich blood from the heart to various parts of the body. Veins are responsible for sending that blood back to the heart.
The veins in the legs have a particularly strenuous job. In order to send blood back to the heart, the veins in the legs must fight gravity.
When they are healthy, the veins are equipped for this job. Muscle contractions push blood from the legs through the veins back to the heart. As the blood moves toward the heart, small valves in the veins close to prevent it from flowing backward.
Sometimes, however, these valves become weak or damaged. When this happens, blood flows back into the veins of the legs. There, it pools and puts pressure on the walls of the veins. Twisted, swollen, and discolored varicose veins are the result.
What Are the Risks of Untreated Spider Veins?
Understanding the cause of spider veins demonstrates that this condition is more than unsightly. Spider veins occur when the circulatory system is unable to function properly. Untreated spider veins are, therefore, dangerous. Here are a few risks of untreated spider veins.
1. Untreated Spider Veins Can Be a Sign of Chronic Venous Insufficiency
Because the one-way valves of the legs don’t function properly, blood flow back to the heart is limited. As blood flows backward instead of forward, it pools in the legs.
This pooling, or stasis, and the varicose veins that result are key features of CVI. When stasis persists, blood pressure in the veins increases. This increased pressure further weakens vein walls and valves. CVI is, thus, a progressive disease.
While treatment cannot reverse CVI, early detection can prevent the condition from worsening. Therefore, regular screening for vein disease is an essential part of preventative healthcare.
2. Untreated Spider Veins Can Lead to Problematic Bleeding
When spider veins remain untreated, pressure in the veins increases. Over time, this pressure can cause capillaries to burst.
Capillaries are the smallest blood vessels nearest the surface of the skin. When they burst, the skin above them can become discolored. This seemingly minor internal bleeding can also cause inflammation and damage to nearby tissue.
More importantly, the surface of the skin covering the broken capillaries can be very fragile. Even a light bump or scratch can break it.
Patients with untreated spider veins may, thus, find that they bruise and bleed more easily. They also might get let ulcers.
3. Untreated Spider Veins Can Lead to Ulcers
When the discolored spots that indicate burst capillaries rupture, they sometimes fail to heal. The persistent open sores, or leg ulcers, that develop can be extremely painful.
As spider veins and the venous insufficiency that causes them to worsen, the legs can swell. This swelling, in turn, makes skin ulcers more likely to occur and more difficult to heal. This can cause pain, ankle discoloration or hemosiderin staining.
Over time, these sores can also become infected. If these infections are left untreated, they can cause bleeding or a dangerous—and potentially fatal—disease called cellulitis can result.
4. Untreated Spider Veins Are Linked to Blood Clots
Recent studies demonstrate a link between varicose veins and blood clots. Superficial blood clots can be minor. However, research suggests that patients with varicose veins are at a significantly increased risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Patients with DVT develop blood clots deep in the veins of the legs. Like some superficial blood clots, clots in the deep veins can be extremely painful. Unlike superficial blood clots, however, deep vein thrombosis can also be extremely dangerous.
DVT Could lead to a Pulmonary Embolism
DVT significantly increases a person’s risk for a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism refers to a blood clot that has broken loose from the deep vein and traveled to the lungs. A pulmonary embolism is a medical emergency, and it can be fatal if left untreated and it is advised to seek medical help if you have symptoms.
5. Untreated Spider Veins Can Lead to a Sedentary Lifestyle
Untreated spider veins—and the complications that result—can be painful and need medical attention. They can also create a feeling of heaviness or tiredness in the legs. Plus, they can cause swelling and pain.
All of these factors can reduce mobility. Unfortunately for many patients with untreated spider veins, this reduced mobility contributes to a vicious cycle.
Prevent Spider Veins
In fact, some of the best ways to prevent spider veins are to maintain a healthy weight and stay physically active. We recommend these 5 home vein wellness exercises. Patients struggling with health problems, pain, swelling, and fatigue associated with spider veins may find even moderate activity difficult. As a result of their increasingly sedentary lifestyle, their spider veins and underlying venous insufficiency worsen.
How Are Spider Veins and Venous Insufficiency Detected?
If you notice spider veins, varicose veins, or other symptoms of vein disease, it’s important to see a medical professional for a physical exam. During the exam, your doctor or vein specialist will observe the appearance of any prominent veins and superficial veins. He will also feel your legs for any warmth or swelling.
Imaging used to determine vein disease
If your doctor suspects a vein disease, he may recommend further testing. Most often, these tests include a duplex ultrasound. The ultrasound can help your doctor determine how well the valves and walls of your veins are functioning. It can also detect any blood clots.
How Are Spider Veins and Other Vein Disorders Treated?
If you have spider veins, you want to know how to get rid of spider veins. Doing so is more than a cosmetic intervention. Medical intervention as spider vein removal is an important step toward protecting your health.
Each of these treatments has advantages and risks. Depending on spider vein removal cost, risk factors, vascular health and other circumstances, one treatment option might be better for you than others.
As the name suggests, the VenaSeal Closure System removes spider veins by sealing them closed. Many patients choose this option because it involves a quick recovery and only minor bruising.
Different forms of sclerotherapy remove spider veins by injecting a sclerosing solution. The solution contains salt, and it causes swollen veins to collapse. Sclerotherapy injections can be slightly painful. Like VenaSeal, however, sclerotherapy offers a quick recovery and minimal bruising.
Both radiofrequency ablation and endovenous laser treatments remove spider veins by using heat to shrink and seal them shut. However, RFA involves a small incision and uses a catheter to apply radio-frequency energy to swollen veins. In contrast, endovenous laser treatments use heat from a laser.
Like RFA, VeinGogh uses heat to target spider veins. However, VeinGogh delivers heat using innovative microburst technology. For younger patients with minimal defective veins, VeinGogh is an ideal option.
Finally, ambulatory phlebectomy is another option. Ambulatory phlebectomy uses a small incision to remove superficial veins.
You and your doctor can discuss various treatments and develop a plan that fits your needs.
How Can You Prevent Spider Veins?
Preventing and treating spider veins and other vein diseases go hand-in-hand. Regular screening for vein disease is an important step you can take to protect your overall health.
This screening becomes even more important for individuals with any of the following risk factors:
Age: Blood vessels weaken with age, and older people are at increased risk for vein disease.
Gender: Women are more likely to develop spider veins than men.
Family history: Genetics can play a role in vein disease.
Excess weight: Excess weight makes your veins work harder to pump blood back to your heart.
Sedentary habits: Engaging in regular physical activity can keep your veins strong.
Jobs that require long periods of sitting or standing: Long periods of standing and sitting strain the veins of the legs.
Whether you have specific risk factors or not, you should contact your doctor right away if you notice symptoms of vein disease. Early detection and early treatments produce the best outcomes.
Spider Vein Treatment and Prevention: It’s Not In Vain and It’s Not Because You’re Vain
Treating spider veins is much more than an issue of vanity. Treating spider veins contributes to your overall vein health.
Getting screened for vein disease regularly and addressing problems as they arise can prevent serious risks and even significant life-threatening complications.
Mrs. Paige Bourbeau, ARNP is a distinguished graduate of the University of South Florida's Masters of Science in Nursing program from 2012. As one of the top achievers in her class, she was inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau International Honors Society and recognized by the American College of Phlebology for her expertise in treating venous insufficiency.