What Are Spider Veins?

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Introduction to spider veins

Spider veins are defined as noticeable collections of broken tiny blood vessels in the skin, sometimes referred to as thread veins or telangiectasias. They are mostly the result of blood pools (the blood flow through veins is blocked). They can be perceived to be twisted lines that are red, blue, or purple and branch out from a central locus to resemble spiders. The vast majority of patients do not have any severe medical problems related to these spider veins. They may, however, be a substantial cosmetic irritation, and treatments generally endeavour to enhance aesthetics. There are, at present, multiple verified therapies available.1

Spider veins are more frequent in women than in males, and they are typically found on the thighs, ankles, and calves. There are genetic elements in relation to the condition (i.e. a person is at higher risk if their parents have them), albeit their exact origin is not always known. Pregnancy, the use of birth control pills, and weight increase are associated with some instances.2

Risk factors of spider veins

There is a wide range of risk factors for spider veins. Though most symptoms are not a cause for alarm, there are some cases where telangiectasias are characterised with a number of autoimmune disorders as will be discussed subsequently.3

Genetic predisposition

They are hereditary; therefore, acquisition through one’s parents is a major risk factor.

Age-related factors

The older an individual gets the more at risk they are of developing spider veins.

Hormonal influences

Mostly affecting women in this case.

Lifestyle factors

That would be things such as obesity or lack of physical activity.

Occupational factors

Standing or sitting for too long are one of the outlining factors for developing spider veins, individuals with longer hours of either are more at risk than others. For example working as a lecturer (standing for too long) or working in clerical fields (sitting for too long).

Autoimmune disorders

These can be referred to as connective tissue diseases that impact the skin and other connective tissues. For example:

  • Systemic sclerosis is commonly known as scleroderma

Patients with both forms of scleroderma (limited and diffuse) have been observed to have manifestations of telangiectasia.

  1. CREST syndrome (Calcinosis, Raynaud’s phenomenon, Esophageal dysmotility, Sclerosis, and Telangiectasia) is another name for limited scleroderma. The skin of the face, hands, and feet is the main target of this (other organs may also be affected).
  2. Diffuse scleroderma is a kind of disease that affects both the skin and internal organs, although it starts more quickly.3

Over time, telangiectasias increase in number in both forms of the illness. However, data indicates that people with restricted scleroderma (CREST) are more likely to have them.

  1. Periungual telangiectasias or lesions around the finger or toenail

They are a typical symptom of lupus. Individuals with lupus experience telangiectasia of the nail folds, which is correlated with systemic disease activity and Raynaud's phenomenon. Additionally, telangiectasias can be observed in the periphery of discoid lupus lesions. (This is a skin-only sickness where there are no additional lupus symptoms, just a particular rash that usually results in scarring around circular-shaped lesions).3

Underlying disease

  • Prolonged systemic or topical corticosteroid usage,
  • Rosacea liver disease

Pregnancy

Telangiectasias are more common in pregnant women

Other causes

Fair-skinned individuals most often develop them on body parts that have sustained long-term UV exposure.

Symptoms of spider veins

The symptoms of spider veins are dependent on the type.

  1. Idiopathic spider veins:

They are usually identified by the visibility of blood vessels on the surface of the skin presenting as twisted blue, red or purple lines radiating from a central point.

  1. Secondary spider veins: Symptoms result from underlying vein problems or even varicose veins that present with:
    • Leg throbbing
    • Swelling
    • Leg discomfort
  2. Corona phlebectatica 

They’re also known as an “ankle flare” and are when the spider veins appear around the ankle. In severe cases of corona, the venous circulation's damaged or malfunctioning valves cause spider veins to form around the ankle.

They usually are identified by:

  • Thin and white skin around the ankles and are more prone to abrasion and ulceration.4

Diagnosis and evaluation

Based on a patient's medical history and physical examination, spider veins are diagnosed clinically. When it comes to diagnosing spider veins, there is no effective laboratory testing. When mapping the venous system, imaging investigations might be useful if chronic venous insufficiency is suspected. These consist of:

  • Magnetic resonance venography (MRV)
  • Contrast venography
  • Duplex ultrasonography1

Spider veins vs varicose veins

Both spider veins and varicose veins stem from venous insufficiency (the blood flow in veins being blocked,  causing a blood pool). However, there are a few distinguishing factors between the two.

Veins that are big and swollen are called varicose veins, and they often affect the legs and feet. They seem lumpy, bulging, or twisted, and might be blue or dark purple in colour.

Some signs and symptoms are:

  • Legs that hurt are heavy and unpleasant
  • Enlarged ankles and feet, as well as heat or aching in legs
  • Leg cramps, especially at night (dry, itchy, and thin skin surrounding the afflicted vein).5

Treatment options

  1. Conservative treatments
    • Compression stockings
    • Lifestyle modifications (weight management)
  2. Minimally invasive treatments
    • Sclerotherapy: Sclerosing chemicals can be injected into the vasculature to eradicate reticular veins and telangiectasias. The first-line treatment for leg spider veins is considered to be sclerotherapy. The deep, superficial, feeder and perforating veins are first examined using ultrasonography to evaluate the local vasculature for blockage and venous reflux/incompetence. Target vessels that need to be treated are indicated, and pathways with unusual flow are found. Under ultrasound guidance, a very small needle (30 gauge) is used to inject the sclerosing agent, which can be either a liquid or a foam.1
    • Laser therapy: A hand-held device is used to provide laser treatment, which heats the target by absorbing photon energy from the laser. The target must have the right colour in order for it to absorb photon energy; the target's chromophore must match the wavelength of the laser. It follows that various chromophores (and hence different structures) can be selectively targeted without causing harm to neighbouring tissues by adjusting the laser's wavelength.1

For the treatment of spider veins, a range of lasers are available, each with unique benefits, limitations, and applications.

  1. Argon Laser

Among the earliest types of lasers employed for vascular applications were argon lasers. Between 488 and 514 nm is the blue-green wavelength that these lasers generate. This wavelength indicates that haemoglobin will readily absorb it and that it will easily penetrate 1 mm of skin. 90% success rates have been recorded in some trials when combined with sclerotherapy. Limitations are due to their cause of non-specific thermal harm associated with a greater chance of scarring and pigmentation.

  1. Pulsed dye laser

Recent pulsed dye lasers employ pulse lengths of less than one millisecond, and they are equipped with an inbuilt cooling mechanism. These qualities lessen the possibility of accidental heat injury to nearby structures, which lessens pigmentation and scarring. Pulsed dye lasers have demonstrated good clearance with smaller-calibre vessels; however, their performance with larger-calibre vessels has not been as encouraging.1

  1. Dietary changes
  2. Leg elevation and exercise
  3. Proper skin care for spider veins

Complications

Some complications and risks associated with spider veins may include:

  • Blood clots (deep vein thrombosis)
  • Skin ulcers and infections
  • Impact on quality of life

Conclusion

In conclusion, despite their seeming insignificance on the surface, telangiectasia, or spider veins, have a clear medicinal significance. Even though these complex vein patterns are sometimes thought of as a cosmetic issue, it's important to comprehend the underlying reasons and any difficulties that may arise from them. Telangiectasia can be caused by a multitude of reasons, including age, hormone fluctuations, heredity, and lifestyle choices, as this article has discussed. Moreover, they may result in aching, itching, and discomfort, which may lower the affected person's quality of life in general.

Thankfully, patients can find comfort and restore confidence thanks to the variety of treatment choices available in contemporary medicine, which range from conservative methods to minimally invasive operations. Individuals can successfully control and, in many cases, completely eradicate these unpleasant vascular abnormalities by seeking early medical examination and management.

In the field of medicine, it is critical to understand that spider veins, just like any other medical ailment, require careful thought and treatment. Patients can use this information as a step towards empowerment and taking charge of their own health and well-being, while healthcare practitioners need it in order to deliver complete treatment. Future developments in medicine and research should bring forth better, patient-friendly, and efficient treatments, which will enhance the quality of life for individuals afflicted with spider veins. A significant endeavour that requires care and attention is diagnosing and treating spider veins with the goal of overall health and well-being.

References

  1. Sandean DP, Winters R. Spider veins. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 [cited 2023 Oct 20]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK563218/
  2. Harvard Health [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2023 Oct 20]. Spider veins. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/spider-veins-a-to-z
  3. Hospital for Special Surgery [Internet]. [cited 2023 Oct 20]. Telangiectasia: causes, diagnosis, prevention & treatment. Available from: https://www.hss.edu/conditions_telangiectasia-and-autoimmune-disease.asp
  4. What are leg spider veins and how are they removed? | causes and treatment by microsclerotherapy [Internet]. [cited 2023 Oct 20]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqSB0M_urt8
  5. nhs.uk [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2023 Oct 20]. Varicose veins. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/varicose-veins/

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Zuwaira Aliyu

Bsc Biomedical Science, The University of South Wales

As a undergraduate Biomedical scientist, my journey is marked by several hours of immersive laboratory experiences, fostering a keen understanding of procedures and the paramount importance of data integrity.

Beyond the lab, i am also passionate about medical writing which showcases my ability to communicate complex scientific information effectively to a wide range of audiences.

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