The terms “spider veins” and “varicose veins” are often heard in tandem, and it’s true that the two conditions share some characteristics. Both spider veins and varicose veins cause your blood vessels to be more visible below the surface of your skin, and both can lead to some discomfort.

But there is more to both, including different treatment options. After a consultation with your Manhattan vein doctor, you’ll have a much clearer understanding of:

  • Which term applies to your symptoms
  • How best to proceed

Vein Size Matters

The most obvious difference between varicose veins and spider veins is size. Varicose veins have a thick, often ropy appearance, similar to the gnarled roots of a tree. You notice that you can see and feel them protruding beneath the surface of your skin.

Spider veins — which have nothing to do with the much-maligned arachnid — are thin, more threadlike than ropy. They are so named because of their fine, delicate appearance, much like the threads of a spider web. While they’re actually closer to the surface of your skin than varicose veins, you can’t feel them.

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Varicose veins usually are a problem from your waist down, most often in your legs. Pregnant women may notice them around the buttocks and vulva, thanks to increased blood flow during gestation. Spider veins can appear on your legs, but they’re not limited to the lower part of your body. They often appear on your face as well, especially on your nose and cheeks.

It’s not unusual to have a single varicose vein appear without any others around, although it’s just as common to have more than one on a single leg or to have them appear on both legs. Spider veins, on the other hand, always appear in clusters and can spread out like the tiny lines on a map. From a distance, spider veins may look like a bruise or a case of flushed cheeks.

Spider veins are usually red, but may appear blue as well. Varicose veins can be red or blue, or they may not appear discolored at all. Sometimes, they simply look like raised, cord-like ridges along your legs, with no change to your skin tone.

Discomfort Level

Varicose veins are usually more uncomfortable than spider veins, although both can cause some level of discomfort. Spider veins can cause mild pain and itching at the site, but often present no symptoms other than the visible lines under your skin.

Varicose veins, on the other hand, often come along with:

  • Pain, not just around the vein itself, but along your entire leg, frequently described as a deep or dull ache
  • Swelling in your legs
  • Itching, with or without an accompanying rash
  • A heavy feeling in your legs
  • Leg cramps
  • A throbbing sensation, with or without pain, which can feel like a heavy pulse through the affected veins
  • Restless legs at night
  • Darkening of your skin, seen in severe cases
The Main Difference Between Spider and Varicose Veins

What’s Happening?

Varicose veins and spider veins show up when your blood vessels are weakened or damaged, causing them to become enlarged. Varicose veins are the result of blood pooling in a weakened vein; spider veins are caused by a variety of factors, including a backup of blood, changes in hormone levels or injuries.

Varicose and spider veins can strike anyone, but your risk increases:

  • As you age because your veins naturally become weaker
  • From standing or sitting for long periods of time without moving
  • When you are obese or overweight; the extra weight increases the pressure on your veins
  • When you’re pregnant, as your veins must work overtime to carry the increased blood flow
  • By spending too much time in the sun, which can lead to spider veins on your face
  • If varicose veins or spider veins run in your family

Reclaim Your Comfort and Your Activity Levels

When you’re ready to erase troublesome veins, lifestyle changes are the first step. Compression stockings keep pressure on your legs, encouraging healthy blood flow and potentially reducing the appearance of varicose and spider veins. Eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise.

If these changes don’t help, it’s time for medical treatment. Talk to your vein doctor; don’t suffer needlessly. Most procedures take place in the comfort of your NYC vein specialist’s office, including:

  • Sclerotherapy, which is available for both types of veins
  • Laser therapy, which is used for treating spider veins, especially on your face.