Causes and Prevention of Varicose and Spider Veins

And treatment options if they do end up forming

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Varicose veins are enlarged veins, while spider veins are a smaller version of the same condition.

Women develop this circulatory condition about twice as often as men. Though unsightly, varicose and spider veins don't always require medical attention. When they do, sclerotherapy, injecting a solution into the vein to force blood to reroute to healthier veins, is a common treatment. In the most serious cases, surgery may be required.

These veins can cause dull discomfort that may get worse as you age, but severe pain is uncommon. Symptoms of discomfort may include:

  • Swelling in your feet and legs
  • Fatigued leg muscles and night cramps 
  • An itchy or burning sensation on the skin of your legs and ankles

You can prevent spider veins and varicose veins by:

  • Being more active
  • Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight
  • Not crossing your legs when you sit
  • Not standing for long stretches of time

Watch Now: Things You Might Not Know About Varicose Veins

Appearance and Location

Varicose veins have characteristics that you can see through your skin, such as:

  • They're red or blue in color.
  • They have the appearance of cords running just under your skin that look twisted and bulging.

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Varicose veins closeup. Thick female legs
Varicose veins on a leg. Staras / Getty Images

These veins pop up on various parts of your body, usually in the lower half, including:

  • The backs of your calves
  • The inside of your legs
  • Anywhere from your groin to the ankle
  • In your vagina or around your anus, during pregnancy 

Spider veins look similar to varicose veins, but there are differences:

  • They are smaller.
  • They are often red, but sometimes blue, in color.
  • They are closer to your skin's surface.
  • They look like a spiderweb, with short, jagged lines.
  • They cover either a very small or very large area of skin.

When checking your body for spider veins, you can often find them on your legs and face.

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Human Spider Veins on Leg Closeup
Spider veins on a leg. eldemir / Getty Images


Your veins are part of your circulatory system. As blood returns to your heart, healthy, strong veins act as one-way valves to prevent the blood from flowing backward.

When veins weaken, some of the blood can leak backward, collect there, and then become congested or clogged. This causes the veins to become abnormally large, resulting in either varicose veins or spider veins.

Science has yet to uncover exactly what causes the one-way valves to weaken, but several factors make you more likely to develop them, including:

  • Heredity, or being born with weak vein valves
  • Hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause (when your period has stopped for 12 months), as well as from taking hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, or birth control pills
  • Pregnancy, which causes enlarged veins due to a significant increase in blood volume
  • An enlarged uterus during pregnancy, which puts more pressure on the veins (with improvement seen after delivery)

Other factors that weaken vein valves and contribute to the appearance of varicose and spider veins include:

  • Aging
  • Obesity
  • Leg injury 
  • Prolonged standing—commonly work-related for nurses, teachers, and food service workers


Varicose veins and spider veins may be difficult to prevent for some people, especially if it's hereditary or there are other risk factors present. However, there are a number of things you can do to help to reduce your chances of developing them.


Regular exercise can improve your leg strength, circulation, and vein strength. Exercises that work your leg muscles can help prevent new varicose veins or spider veins from forming. Low-impact exercises such as walking, biking, swimming, or yoga may reduce the symptoms and appearance of any existing varicose veins.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Obesity can increase your risk of varicose veins and spider veins. Losing excess weight can reduce the pressure on your legs and improve circulation.

Elevate Your Legs

Do not cross your legs when sitting and try to elevate your legs when resting. Elevating your legs allows blood that has pooled to drain away and flow back to your heart.

Avoid Sitting or Standing Too Much

Remaining sedentary for long periods of time can allow blood to pool in your legs, which puts you at risk for developing spider veins and varicose veins. If you sit for long periods, it's recommended that you get up and walk around every 30 minutes. If you're always on your feet, try taking breaks every 30 minutes.

Wear Compression Socks

Wearing compression stockings (special, snug-fitting socks to improve circulation) can prevent varicose veins from forming or getting worse. They work by compressing the veins in the lower leg, which helps promote blood flow back to the heart.


There isn’t a cure for varicose veins or spider veins, but there are treatments available that can reduce their appearance and relieve symptoms. Conservative care, such as with lifestyle changes and compression therapy, may be used to manage mild cases. This includes elevating your legs several times a day, exercising, not standing or sitting for long periods of time, and wearing compression socks.

The most common treatment for small varicose veins or spider veins is sclerotherapy. This involves injecting a chemical into the affected vein, which causes the walls to swell and stick together so that blood can no longer flow through it.

Laser therapy can also be used to treat problematic veins. Surgical removal of the vein may be necessary for more serious cases.

A Word From Verywell

Varicose veins and spider veins are quite common. Some people—particularly those who are older, female, overweight, or not physically active—are at greater risk for developing the condition.

Although there is no cure for varicose veins or spider veins, there are a number of things you can do to reduce your chance of developing them. If your varicose veins are becoming bothersome, talk with your healthcare provider to determine which treatment options may be best for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do spider veins appear on the legs?

    Yes, the legs are one of main areas where spider veins can appear, along with the face.

  • Are varicose veins on the legs purple?

    Varicose veins can appear as purple veins on the legs and other areas of the body. They can also be red or blue in color.

  • Can spider veins go away?

    Spider veins are not likely to go away on their own. In fact, they can get worse over time if left untreated. Spider veins can be safely and effectively treated using laser therapy or sclerotherapy.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Piazza G. Varicose veins. Circulation. 2014;130(7):582-7. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.113.008331

  2. Heller JA, Evans NS. Varicose veins. Vasc Med. 2015;20(1):88-90. doi:10.1177/1358863X14566224

  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health. Varicose veins and spider veins.

  4. The Vein Institute of Hunterdon. Best exercises to reduce varicosevein symptoms.

  5. American Academy of Dermatology. Leg veins: Why they appear and how dermatologists treat them.

  6. NHS inform. Varicose veins.

Additional Reading
  • Varicose Veins and Spider Veins Fact Sheet.

  • UCLA Gonda Venus Center: Symptoms and Diagnosis of Spider Veins

By Tracee Cornforth
Tracee Cornforth is a freelance writer who covers menstruation, menstrual disorders, and other women's health issues.