Spider Veins vs. Varicose Veins: What’s the Difference

varicose veins

Spider veins and varicose veins have similar causes, but usually look and are treated differently. Varicose veins are large, swollen blood vessels that are typically raised on the skin. They are usually found in the legs. Spider veins are smaller and are red, purple, or blue vessels that are found on the chest, face, or legs. There are key differences between these two ailments that physicians look for, as the treatment will differ as well.

Varicose veins cause a feeling of heaviness or swelling in the legs. This condition is typically quite uncomfortable for patients and can lead to more serious health conditions such as blood clots. Spiders veins, on the other hand, are almost always painless, do not cause swelling, and typically do not lead to more serious health conditions. Treatment of spider veins is mostly cosmetic, whereas treatment of varicose veins is necessary for health concerns.

Causes of spider and varicose veins

While these two vein conditions are different, the causes are similar and include:

  • Genetics
  • History of blood clots
  • Pregnancy
  • Occupations involving long periods of standing
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Age
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The difference in symptoms

Symptoms for each vein condition is different, so it’s important to speak with your doctor if you experience any of the following.

Pain level

Varicose veins can be painful for many, and patients experience symptoms such as heaviness in the legs, swelling, achiness, throbbing, and leg fatigue. Spider veins do not cause much discomfort, though some patients may experience itching, burning, or stinging of the skin.


Spider veins look much smaller and branch out like a spider web. Varicose veins are bigger, typically 3mm or larger and bulge.

Treatment options for vein conditions

Begin by talking to your doctor about your concerns. The physician will examine the veins to assess which vein condition you have.

Treatment options for spider veins are more cosmetic and include sclerotherapy and YAG laser treatment. Treatment options for varicose veins include VenaSeal, VenaFit, Varithena, and endovascular venous stenting for May-Thurner syndrome. It’s important to speak with your doctor about the options and what treatment is right for your condition.

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Prepare for your vein appointment

If you are experiencing symptoms or have the appearance of the vein condition, see a medical professional. To help your doctor, there are things you can do to prepare for your appointment. 

  • Bring all medical history information with you. Your doctor will ask if others in your family have spider or varicose veins. Since heredity is a major factor with vein conditions, this information is important.
  • Write down all of the symptoms you experience. If there are no symptoms, that is important too, as spider veins often are asymptomatic. Even if a symptom may seem unrelated to your veins, make sure to tell your doctor, as it may be important.
  • Create a list of medications, including vitamins and supplements. Your doctor may also ask about your diet and exercise regime, so prepare to answer that as well.

Your doctor will examine your veins and ask questions related to lifestyle and occupation, as those impact diagnosis and treatment. Be sure to bring any questions you have as well, especially to treatment options and lifestyle changes.

If you’re in the Western New York area and think you may have a vein condition, make an appointment by calling us at 716-671-8393.

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