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What Are the Causes of Spider Veins?

written by: Tania Cowling • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 3/23/2011

Spider veins, very similar to varicose veins, are reddish-purple small veins appearing near the surface of the skin. Read on to find more information on the causes of spider veins, which are more of a cosmetic problem than a danger.

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    Introduction

    Ever notice those small red or purple web-like squiggles that are seen on the skin? They can cover a small or large area of the skin. These are called spider veins. There are in the family of varicose veins, however smaller and closer to the skin’s surface.

    The heart pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. Arteries carry this blood to all the body parts. The veins then take the oxygen-poor blood back to the heart. As the leg muscles squeeze blood from the lower extremities, they go through one-way valves to prevent blood from flowing backward. Spider veins are caused by blood backing up in the veins. These valves can weaken and then blood leaks back and collects in the vein, known as venous insufficiency. Spider veins can be seen on the legs and face, although most prominent in the legs because leg veins have the roughest job getting blood all the way back to the heart.Spider Veins thumbnail 

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    Causes of Spider Veins

    There are known causes or risk factors that tend to cause spider veins:

    • Spider veins can occur at any age, but are seen in people between the ages of 18 and 35. Usually by the time a person reaches 50-60 years old, the spider vein risk factors have peaked.
    • There is a familiar factor, when immediate family members have varicose or spider veins
    • Some people are born with weak veins or vein valves
    • Avoid obesity. It’s best to maintain a good body weight to avoid excess pressure on the legs.
    • Try to avoid daily prolonged standing and sitting. Get into the habit of elevating the legs when possible, keeping them higher than your heart level. When sitting for long periods of time, get up and take short walks or stretch the feet and legs to gain better circulation. A person can flex their ankles under a desk to simulate walking which can be helpful.
    • Spider veins can be caused by hormonal changes in women during pregnancy or menopause. Medications that contain Estrogen and Progesterone, including birth control pills, may increase the risk factors of spider veins in women. Pregnancy in itself circulates hormones that can weaken the vein walls. As a woman reaches her last trimester in pregnancy, the enlarged uterus can compress veins, which can lead to dilated veins. These sometimes clear up after the birth or a few months later.
    • Gender is a factor, as women are prone to spider veins more so than men.
    • A leg injury can cause spider veins. In the event of injury or bleeding of the vein, raise the leg and place compression to the area. Seek immediate medical attention.
    • Sun exposure may increase the likelihood of getting spider veins, especially in fair-skinned people. Also it is best to avoid extreme heat on the legs by avoiding hot baths and soaking in a hot tub. Heat can distend the veins leading to more pooling of blood.

    Spider veins are more common that most people think. Although we do not like the looks of these superficial veins, they are not dangerous and can be eliminated by medical procedures.

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    Sources

    Prevention & Cause of Varicose Veins and Spider Veins; http://www.veindirectory.org/content/prevention.asp

    MedicineNet.com: Varicose Veins and Spider Veins; http://www.medicinenet.com/varicose_veins/article.htm

    WomensHealth.gov; Varicose Veins and Spider Veins, Frequently Asked Questions; http://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/varicose-spider-veins.cfm

    Photo Credit: http://nycityhealth.com/Dermatology/SpiderVeins.htm