Spider Veins vs. Varicose Veins

Spider veins and varicose veins are a frequent reason why patients make an appointment with a vascular specialist today. What are these veins and why do they occur? Are they dangerous? Is treatment available? At Physician’s Clinic of Iowa Vein Center, we can help you understand the differences between spider vein and varicose veins, including their causes and treatment options.

Venous Insufficiency 


To understand the primary cause of varicose and spider veins, you must first understand venous insufficiency. Inside the veins of the body are tiny valves that are responsible for moving blood in a single direction back to the heart. These valves can wear out or become damaged over time, particularly in the lower legs where the veins have to work against the forces of gravity to pump blood in an upward direction.

When the valves stop working as efficiently as they once did, blood can pool in the veins of the lower legs. This can lead to swelling in the veins and the formation of spider and varicose veins.

Spider Veins

Spider veins, also called telangiectasia, are networks of red or blue lines that resemble a spider’s web. These veins frequently appear on the lower legs, but can also make an appearance on the thighs, abdomen or face. While spider veins can be caused by venous insufficiency, other potential causes of spider veins include:

  • Sun damage
  • Trauma to the skin
  • Heredity
  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Some types of medications or supplements

Spider veins commonly present without physical symptoms, making them more of a cosmetic concern. Because these veins tend to be small and close to the surface of the skin, treatment options are minimally or non-invasive to eliminate these bothersome veins.

Varicose Veins

Varicose veins tend to be larger and may twist and bulge above the surface of the skin. They may be blue, purple or flesh-colored. Varicose veins are nearly always caused by venous insufficiency, so treatment requires addressing the source of the insufficiency to eliminate the unsightly veins.

Like spider veins, varicose veins may present with few if any physical symptoms. However, it is common for individuals with varicose veins to experience one or more of the following symptoms:

Heaviness or achiness in the legs
Swelling of the lower legs and feet
Cramping or restless leg syndrome at night
Skin changes and discoloration
Appearance of open sores around the ankle

If you suffer from varicose or spider veins, there are many treatment options available today. To learn more about your choices in eliminating varicose and spider veins, contact PCI Vein Center at (319) 247-3800 to schedule your personal consultation with Dr. David Lawrence.


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