Varicose veins and spider veins

Varicose veins

  • Swollen, twisted, and enlarged veins that develop when healthy vein walls and valves become weak
  • Usually develop on the legs, but also can form in other parts of the body
  • Unsightly and unattractive
  • May cause leg pain, swelling, tingling, and restless legs
  • Typically do not cause medical problems, but can lead to leg swelling, pain, blood clots, and ulcers
  • Follow-up care after treatments

Spider veins

  • Smaller, thinner, milder version of varicose veins
  • Appear close to the surface of the skin
  • Sometimes surround larger varicose veins


Varicose veins

  • Dark-blue or purple appearance
  • Legs that ache or feel tired, tender, burning, throbbing, itchy, or cramped
  • "Bulging" veins that appear raised on the skin surface

Spider veins

  • Tiny groups of red, blue, or purple veins
  • Spider web-like, branch-like, or thin-line patterns

Risks factors for varicose and spider veins

  • Age (varicose veins typically occur as you get older)
  • Gender (women are more likely than men to develop varicose veins)
  • Being overweight
  • Pregnancy
  • History of blood clots in the legs
  • Standing or sitting for long periods of time
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Family history


  • Varicose veins can be diagnosed by a physical exam.
  • A Duplex ultrasound is performed in the majority of patients.
  • This test uses sound waves to measure blood flow and determine how much blood is flowing backward or pooling in the leg.

Treatments for varicose veins and spider veins

Non-surgical treatments

  • Elevating your legs above your heart several times each day
  • Compression stockings that gently "squeeze" your legs and push blood toward your heart

Medical treatments

  • Microphlebectomy (also known as stab or ambulatory phlebectomy), an outpatient procedure that uses small incisions in the skin to remove varicose veins
  • Venous ablation, a catheter-based outpatient procedure that uses heat (via radiofrequency or laser technology) to close and seal a vein
  • Sclerotherapy, an outpatient procedure that involves injecting a chemical solution directly into the vein, which stops blood flow and causes the vein to collapse and disappear over time:
    • Conventional liquid sclerotherapy
    • Ultrasound-guided foam sclerotherapy
Last reviewed: 
August 2017

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