ABC of Vascular Disease

Spider Veins

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1. What are spider veins?
Varicose veins are very fine veins that are visible just under the skin on the leg.  They are blue in colour and usually form a tree like pattern.  If you press on the spider veins they will lose their colour as the blood they contain is squeezed out.  Spider veins are not painful.

2. What causes spider veins?
Spider veins are more common in some people than others but the reason they develop is not well understood.  Spider veins may be related to varicose veins but not always.  Having spider veins does not mean that you will get varicose veins.

3. How do you diagnose spider veins?
An examination of the skin is usually all that is required to diagnose spider veins.  There are other causes of abnormal blood vessels in the skin which, to the untrained eye, may look like spider veins.  If spider veins are found then varicose veins should be looked for as well.  There is usually no need for X-rays or blood tests.

4. What will happen if I have spider veins and I do nothing about them?
Other than the appearance, spider veins do not cause problems.  Some people find spider veins unsightly and embarrassing.  If there are other symptoms such as aching and ankle swelling then there may well be varicose veins as well.

5. What treatment is required for spider veins?
Spider veins that are not causing any problems do not require treatment.  Many patients who request treatment do so for largely cosmetic reasons.  There are two treatments for spider veins

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Microsclerotherapy - which are injections into the spider veins that shrink them.

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Phototherapy - which is treatment with flashes of very bright light that shrink the spider veins.

Neither of these treatments are usually available on the NHS but there are Private Health clinics that do provide this service.  The number of sessions of treatment that is required depends on the extent of the spider veins.

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S.R.Dodds 2001

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