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Thread Veins (Spider Veins)

The below content has been medically reviewed and approved by Consultant Interventional Radiologist Dr. Suzie Anthony (MBBS, MRCP, FRCR), Deputy Medical Director and member of the Medical Advisory Committee at Veincentre.

Last reviewed 5th October 2021.

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Thread veins
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Overview

Thread veins, commonly called spider veins, are tiny prominent veins just below the skin surface. They tend to branch and give a spidery sort of pattern, hence their common name. Spider veins can occur anywhere on the body, but most often on the legs and face.

Thread veins are a common problem, affecting around 80% of all adults at some point in their lives. Fortunately, thread veins can usually be treated with simple and routine procedures.

Thread Vein Symptoms

Thread veins rarely cause symptoms but they can be unsightly. People seek treatment to improve the cosmetic appearance. Occasionally, people may experience symptoms; such as burning, cramp and itching, but these symptoms are more commonly associated with varicose veins.

The appearance of thread veins on the skin varies depending on several factors, including the size of the vein, the proximity of the vein to the skin surface, as well as the flow of blood within the vein. Threads can vary in colour, usually appearing pink or red, but if larger they can look darker – often blue or purple.

The depth of the vein when compared to the surface of the skin will also dictate how visibly deep that colour will appear. Obviously, the deeper the vein, the less distinct the appearance will be, and those closer to the surface of the skin will appear more vividly.

It is also important to note that they sometimes occur as single short, straight veins – not always resembling the “spider’s web”.

Thread Vein Causes

The cause of thread veins is often unknown, but, similar to varicose veins, there is a genetic predisposition to the condition. We have seen patterns emerge from parents to children and among siblings. Other risk factors for thread veins include pregnancy, oestrogen treatment, topical steroid use, local trauma to the skin, and prolonged standing1.

Occasionally, thread veins of the legs may be an indication of an underlying venous condition.

Thread Vein Diagnosis

As thread veins are largely cosmetic, diagnosis may be achieved from a visual examination of the affected area. It isn’t possible to establish the cause of the thread veins from visual examination alone. At Veincentre, all patients presenting with thread veins of the legs undergo duplex ultrasound at initial consultation to rule out an underlying venous disease. Failure to recognise and treat underlying venous disease may cause treatment failure or early thread vein recurrence.

Thread Vein Prevention

Thread veins are common and become more frequent with advancing age. There is no definite way to prevent the appearances of thread veins, although maintaining a healthy weight with regular exercise will help improve circulation to the legs.

If you have a sedentary job, it is advisable to move around or stretch your legs periodically to ensure optimal circulation and blood flow. Compression stockings may be of benefit in preventing any associated symptoms such as burning, cramps or itching. A history of smoking and excess alcohol intake have both been linked to the presence of thread veins on the face.

Treatment

Thread veins on the surface of the legs can effectively be treated using a procedure called microsclerotherapy. We have been using this technique since 2003 with great results. It is a minimally invasive, walk in, walk out procedure.

Thread veins on the face are best treated using a procedure called thermocoagulation (Veinwave™).

 

Reference

  1. Schwartz  L, Maxwell  H. Sclerotherapy for lower limb telangiectasias. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD008826. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008826.pub2. Accessed 27 August 2021.
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