Causes and Prevention of Varicose and Spider Veins

Varicose and Spider Veins Afflict More Women Than Men

Varicose Vein
Getty Images/huseyintuncer

Varicose veins are simply enlarged veins and spider veins are a smaller version of the same condition, though their appearance is different. 

Women are more likely to develop this circulatory condition and, here in the United States, up to 50 percent of women suffer from some form of vein disorder. It's estimated that 41 percent of all women will suffer from abnormal leg veins by the age of 50.

Perhaps unsightly, varicose and spider veins don't usually require medical treatment.

They can cause dull discomfort and may get worse as you age, but severe pain is uncommon. Symptoms of discomfort may include:

  • swelling in your feet and legs
  • fatigued leg muscles and night cramps 
  • you may feel an itchy or burning sensation on the skin of your legs and ankles

What Do Varicose Veins Look Like? 

Varicose veins have similar characteristics that you can see through your skin, including:

  • color: red, blue or none
  • the appearance of cords running just under your skin that may appear to be twisted and bulging

Where Do Varicose Veins Appear?

These veins pop-up on various parts of your body, including:

  • the backs of your calves
  • the inside of your legs
  • anywhere from your groin to the ankle
  • in your vagina or around your anus, during pregnancy 

What Do Spider Veins Look Like?

Spider veins look similar to varicose veins, but they:

  • are smaller
  • are often red or sometimes blue in color
  • are closer to your skin's surface
  • can look like a spider web with short, jagged lines
  • can cover either a very small or very large area of skin

Where Do Spider Veins Appear?

When checking your body for spider veins, you can find them on your:

  • legs
  • face 

Why Do I Have Varicose Veins?

Your veins are part of your circulatory system. As the blood returns to the heart, healthy strong veins act as one-way valves to prevent the blood from flowing backward.

When they weaken, some of the blood can leak backward, collect there, and then become congested or clogged. This causes the vein to abnormally enlarge, resulting in either varicose veins or spider veins.

Science has yet to uncover exactly what causes the one-way valves to weaken, but several factors make you more likely to develop them including:

  • Heredity, or being born with weak vein valves
  • Hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, as well as taking estrogen, progesterone, and birth control pills
  • Pregnancy causes enlarged veins because your blood volume increases significantly  
  • Pregnancy makes your uterus larger and  puts more pressure on the veins -- you may see improvement within 3 months of delivery

Other factors that weaken vein valves and could contribute to the appearance of varicose and spider veins include:

  • aging
  • obesity
  • leg injury 
  • prolonged standing - commonly work-related for nurses, teacher and food service workers

How Can I Prevent Varicose and Spider Veins?

You can try to prevent varicose and spider veins by taking the following steps:

  • Exercise regularly to improve your leg strength, circulation, and vein strength
  • Control your weight to avoid placing too much pressure on your legs
  • Do not cross your legs when sitting and try to elevate your legs when resting
  • Do not stand for long periods of time


UCLA Gonda Venus Center: Symptoms and Diagnosis of Spider Veins Varicose Veins and Spider Veins Fact Sheet (2012).

Continue Reading