On my days off, I enjoy taking long, leisurely strolls along the beach. As I walk along the sand, I usually notice how quite a few beachgoers have enlarged blue or red veins on their legs. Vein problems, such as varicose veins or spider veins, affect about 55% of women.
Veins are a variety of blood vessels located in your circulatory system. They are responsible for transporting blood back to the heart, and unlike your arteries, they don’t rely on your heart’s pumping action to move the blood throughout the body.
Any pumping action is due to the contracting effect of the veins that surround your muscles. Veins also contain valves that keep the blood flowing toward the heart.
However, when a vein wall is weakened or the valves malfunction, the blood cannot flow properly, and the accumulation of blood will begin to stretch and bulge. Varicose veins often appear on the legs, such as the back of the calves or thighs.
Varicose veins are thought to affect over 40 million American adults, or 23% of the population. It is also estimated that varicose veins affect 41% of women over 50 and 50% of 50-year-olds overall. According to a 2014 review published in the journal Circulation, when spider veins are also considered, vein problems affect 85% of women and 80% of men.
What’s the Difference Between Varicose Veins and Spider Veins?
Although varicose veins and spider veins are equally annoying, there are some differences between them. Varicose veins are painful, thick, and are about four to five millimeters in diameter. They are also bluer than spider veins, and they stick out above the skin. They appear spongy and soft; however, they may be hard and tender when they have clotted. They are the result of valve malfunctions and blood accumulation. Varicose veins pain is also associated with the menstrual cycle.
On the other hand, pain is not common with spider veins (although some women may experience slight discomfort during menstruation). Spider veins are small and thin, red or purplish blood vessels that are noticeable under the skin of your legs. You may confuse spider veins with bruises, especially when they occur in clusters. They can also be a symptom of varicose vein formation and poor circulation.
Causes of Varicose Veins and Spider Veins
Spider and varicose veins may develop from blood accumulation and structural blood vessel abnormalities. Other risk factors of varicose and spider veins include:
- Sun exposure
- A history of blood clots
- Taking birth control pills
- Taking hormone replacement therapy
- Hormonal changes during menopause or puberty
- Long periods of heavy lifting or standing
Varicose and spider veins may also result from a genetic weakness in the vein or vein valves. Other root causes may include a lack of exercise, liver disease, nutritional deficiencies, and a diet low in fiber and high in refined and fatty foods.
Symptoms of Varicose Veins and Spider Veins
The most obvious symptoms of spider and varicose veins are their colors. Spider veins are often red or purplish, and varicose veins are bluish. Other symptoms associated with spider or varicose veins include fatigue, rashes, skin ulcers, swelling, itchiness, burning, restlessness, throbbing, cramping, aching, tingling, leg pain, and heaviness in the legs.
Sometimes there may not be symptoms associated with varicose veins at all. Varicose and spider veins can sometimes progress to other conditions, including skin ulcers, phlebitis, thrombosis, and bleeding.
Treatment of Varicose and Spider Veins
For severe cases of spider and varicose veins, your doctor may recommend various treatment options:
- Compression stockings: Compression stockings are thought to put pressure on your veins. Support pantyhose are thought to offer the least amount of pressure for treatment of spider and varicose veins. Over-the-counter and prescription-strength gradient compression hoses offer greater pressure to treat your spider or varicose veins. Some people also wear compression support stockings to help reduce the risk of varicose or spider veins.
- Sclerotherapy: Sclerotherapy is considered the most common treatment method for spider and varicose veins. For this procedure, the doctor injects a liquid chemical into your vein. As a result, the chemical will stop the blood flow and cause the vein walls to swell, stick together, and seal. The treatments are often performed every four to six weeks. It may cause temporary side effects, including bruises, stinging, raised, and red skin patches, inflammation, and spots, brown lines, or groups of red blood vessels around the vein.
- Surface laser treatments: Laser treatments can also sometimes treat spider veins and smaller varicose veins. It is a technique that sends strong light bursts through your skin and into the vein. It can help the vein fade and disappear; however, not all skin types can safely be treated with a laser. Side effects include burns, scars, swelling, redness, and discolored skin that lasts for about one or two months.
- Endovenous techniques: Endovenous techniques can help treat deeper veins in the legs. These techniques use laser or radiofrequency energy to seal the vein, and it is done using anesthesia. Slight bruising may be a side effect after the treatment is complete. If the veins don’t shrink after treatment, sclerotherapy or other therapies may be recommended.
- Surgery: Surgery is often used for treating large spider or varicose veins. Surgical stripping and ligation will help problematic veins by tying them shut. They are then completely removed from the leg. This method comes with several side effects, like permanent scars, wound infection, breathing or heart problems from anesthesia, congestion, bleeding, and nerve tissue damage around the treated vein. Other surgery methods include ambulatory phlebectomy (surgery for superficial varicose veins) and PIN stripping (this involves vein stripping).
Spider and Varicose Veins Prevention
There are several things that you can do to prevent spider and varicose veins. It is a good idea to elevate your legs for 30-minute periods several times during the day. Get regular exercise, maintain a healthy weight, and try not to stand or sit in the same position for a long time period.
Natural Remedies for Varicose Veins and Spider Veins
Here are several natural remedies that can help treat varicose and spider veins:
1. High-fiber Diet
A high-fiber diet is considered a very good tool to treat varicose and spider veins. Since constipation is a related symptom of spider and varicose veins, try including more fiber in your diet, including higher amounts of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and non-gluten grains, such as quinoa, wild rice, buckwheat, and millet. One to two tablespoons of ground flaxseed each day is also a good source of fiber. Psyllium husk is a fiber supplement used to reduce the pain associated with varicose veins.
Your diet should also include garlic, ginger, onions, cayenne, cherries, blueberries, and blackberries. Avoid saturated fats and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. They are known to worsen blood vessel inflammation and reduce circulation. Alcohol and caffeine are also dehydrating, and they can worsen symptoms of spider or varicose veins.
2. Horse Chestnut
Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) seed extract has long been used for centuries in the treatment of varicose veins. The herb will improve circulation, reduce swelling, and strengthen valves and vein walls. The beneficial compounds in horse chestnut include esculin, escin, and proanthocyanidin.
The historical use has led to many clinical studies that support the use of horse chestnut extract. In a 2006 study published in the journal Advances in Therapy, horse chestnut extract helped to alleviate leg pain associated with varicose veins. There have also been over 16 double-blind studies that show a positive effect in thrombophlebitis and varicose veins.
3. Gotu Kola
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is another herb that boosts vein wall integrity and blood flow. It will also reduce vein hardening and enhance connective tissue structure.
Gotu kola extract contains 70% triterpenic acids, including asiaticoside, madecassic acid, and asiatic acid. The extracts have been shown to demonstrate effectiveness against varicose veins, as well as other skin conditions like cellulite and venous insufficiency of the lower limbs.
4. Butcher’s Broom
Butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus) rhizome is another effective, natural treatment for spider and varicose veins. It has a long history in the treatment of vein circulation disorders, like varicose veins and hemorrhoids. Ruscogenins are the active compounds in butcher’s broom, and they have a tonic and anti-inflammatory effect on your blood vessels.
Double-blind studies have found to offer symptom relief and improve vein blood flow related to spider or varicose veins. A study published in the journal Drugs Under Experimental and Clinical Research researchers found that a combination of butcher’s broom, ascorbic acid, and hesperidin methyl chalcone can improve vein conditions like varicose veins.
Acupuncture is also an effective treatment for spider and varicose veins. Acupuncture treatment can successfully treat varicose veins of the lower leg, according to a 1999 case study described in American Journal of Acupuncture.
Key acupuncture points used to treat varicose or spider veins include large intestine 4 (LI4), large intestine 11 (LI11), and conception vessel 6 (CV6). Gallbladder 34 (GB34) can also help improve the circulation to your legs.
Homeopathic remedies are also considered an effective natural treatment for spider and varicose veins. The best remedies often used include aesculus hippocastanum, arnica montana, bellis perennis, carbo vegetabilis, fluoric acidum, hamamelis, lachesis, pulsatilla, and sepia.
7. Other spider and varicose veins natural treatment
There are also other effective natural treatments for varicose and spider veins. Some herbs that help include grape seed extract, pine bark extract, witch hazel, bilberry, dandelion root, and ginkgo biloba.
Other important nutrients for spider and varicose veins include vitamin C, vitamin D3, vitamin E, bromelain, nattokinase, bioflavonoid complex, and essential fatty acids such as flaxseed oil or fish oil.
Important Things to Know About Varicose and Spider Veins
Here are a few tips and facts about varicose and spider veins:
- Wearing high heels and crossing your legs are common myths thought to cause varicose and spider veins. The accumulation of blood from excessive sitting or standing is more likely the cause of varicose and spider veins.
- Be aware that varicose and spider veins are not just a cosmetic issue, and they can cause long-term health risks.
- It is also a genetic issue that can be inhibited from both sides of your family.
- Varicose veins can also appear in other areas besides the legs, such as the anus. Hemorrhoids are actually a form of varicose veins.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Murray, M., et al., The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine: Third Edition (New York: First Atria Paperback, 2012), 992-997.
Balch, J., et al., Prescription for Natural Cures: A Self-Care Guide for Treating Health Problems with Natural Remedies Including Diet, Nutrition, Supplements, and Other Holistic Methods (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004), 540-544.
Suter, A., et al., “Treatment of patients with venous insufficiency with fresh plant horse chestnut seed extract: a review of 5 clinical studies,” Advances in Therapies, 2006; 23(1): 179-190.
Cappelli, R., et al., “Use of extract of Ruscus aculeatus in venous disease in the lower limbs,” Drugs Under Experimental and Clinical Research, 1988; 14(4): 277-283.
Bodenheim, R., “Case report: successful treatment of varicose veins with acupuncture,” American Journal of Acupuncture, 1999; 27(1-2): 23-25.
Pietrangelo, A., “Spider Veins (Telangiectasias),” Healthline web site, August 2, 2012; http://www.healthline.com/health/spider-veins#Overview1.
Piazza, G., “Varicose Veins,” Circulation, 2014; 130: 582-587, doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.113.008.331.
“What is the Difference Between Varicose Veins and Spider Veins?” The Vein Center web site, April 11, 2012; http://www.theveincenternj.com/blog/varicose-veins-and-spider-veins/.
“Varicose Veins Statistics,” Chicago Vein Institute web site, May 5, 2014; http://chicagoveininstitute.com/varicose-veins-statistics/.
“Varicose veins and spider veins fact sheet,” WomensHealth.gov; https://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/varicose-spider-veins.html, last accessed August 26, 2015.
Fiorentino, A., “9 Things You Need To Know About Varicose And Spider Veins,” Women’s Day web site, April 7, 2015; http://www.womansday.com/health-fitness/womens-health/a50236/things-you-need-to-know-about-varicose-and-spider-veins/.