The difference between varicose veins and spider veins

We sometimes have patients who come into the clinic asking about treatments for their varicose veins but on examination, it turns out that they have spider veins. We thought it would be helpful to explain the differences between the two.

Let’s start with the veins themselves. These are blood vessels that carry blood from the rest of the body back to the heart. This blood is low in oxygen which makes it less bright red in colour. This is why veins often look blue or greenish in colour.

It’s quite normal to see veins under the skin – they are often visible in areas where you have very little body fat, such as the backs of the hands. However some people have veins that are much more obvious. These will usually be one of the following:

Spider or Thread Veins

These are fine, red or purplish-blue lines that show under the skin. Sometimes they are in a starburst or spider web formation – hence the name. They are most commonly found on the thighs, calves, ankles and feet but they can also appear on the face. The medical term for spider veins is telangiectasia.

Spider veins are more common in women and tend to appear as we get older. It is thought that sun damage to the skin, hormone changes and the oral birth control pill could be contributing factors. However they are not harmful and rarely cause any discomfort. Spider veins are not usually a sign of more severe venous disease or an indication that you may develop varicose veins.



If you are concerned by the appearance of your spider veins, they can be treated. The usual way is get rid of them is with a procedure called Sclerotherapy. The doctor uses a fine needle to inject a solution directly into the vein which causes it to close. The vein turns to scar tissue and eventually fades away.

Varicose Veins

These are much more prominent than spider veins and can appear as thick, dark coloured ropes protruding through the skin on your legs. Varicose veins develop when blood pools and the walls of the veins stretch. This happens when a vein has a faulty valve which makes it more difficult for blood in the legs to return to the heart. Sometimes blood gets left behind and this is what makes the vein bulge.

Varicose veins are not usually harmful and many people don’t suffer from uncomfortable symptoms. However they can cause problems such as tired, heavy and aching legs. Standing up for long periods can make things worse and some people get restless and itchy legs at night time.

These days, varicose vein procedures don’t need to be carried out at hospital under general anaesthetic so it’s much easier to have them treated both for comfort and cosmetic reasons. One of the most popular treatments is EVLA, which uses a tiny laser to destroy the affected vein. It is so accurate that no damage is caused to the surrounding tissue and patients can get up and walk out of the clinic immediately afterwards.

Find more information on spider veins and varicose veins on The Cooden Medical Group.