Are varicose veins and spider veins the same?

Dr. Darria Gillespie, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist

Technically, spider and varicose veins are slightly different. Varicose veins are enlarged veins that often look like bulging or twisted cords on your leg. Spider veins are smaller and look more like branching veins, and can be found on the legs or face. 

All of the veins in our body have one-way valves. They helps push the blood back to your heart from your legs, especially when the blood is going against gravity, like when you’re standing. Over time -- often due to pregnancy, obesity or spending lots of time on our feet -- those valves can get weaker and give out, causing blood to not flow back as efficiently. The blood pools in the superficial veins in your legs, causing what we call varicose veins. 

Usually, both these types of veins are merely a cosmetic issue. But in some people, they can be painful as well. Or even lead to ulcers. In some rare cases, they could signal a dangerous blood clot deeper in the leg that’s called a DVT or deep-vein thrombosis. Those are dangerous because they could potentially harm the blood flow in your leg, or cause a piece of clot to break off and go into your lungs. If you’ve developed pain, ulcers or any swelling of your leg, you should see your doctor to make sure that it doesn’t represent a DVT. 

If your doctor rules out a DVT, there are some options for treatment. Those typically start out with lifestyle changes: exercise, weight loss, elevating your legs and not standing or sitting for prolonged periods. Compression stockings can also be useful and are usually available without a prescription at the pharmacy or medical supply store.

If those things don’t help, you can talk with your doctor about other treatments, including injections, laser treatments or other surgeries to remove the varicose veins.

Dr. Michelle C. Kosovec, MD
Vascular Surgeon

Varicose veins and spider veins are different. Spider veins are typically much smaller than varicose veins. They do look sort of spidery and are usually treated for cosmetic reasons. However, they can sometimes cause a burning feeling.

Varicose veins are a lot bigger. They may bulge over time. Varicose veins can lead to more dramatic symptoms with leg aching and swelling. The skin over the vein may itch or develop a wound.

Continue Learning about Spider Veins and Varicose Veins

Ways to Avoid and Manage Varicose Veins
Ways to Avoid and Manage Varicose Veins
On an episode of Friends, the gang arrives late to Monica and Chandler’s for dinner. “I bet that vein on Monica’s forehead is popping like crazy,” say...
Read More
How can I remove the spider veins on my legs?
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MDDr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Watch this video to learn more from Dr. Mehmet Oz about spider veins.
More Answers
What is vein ablation?
Southern Hills HospitalSouthern Hills Hospital
Vein ablation is a modern, non-invasive procedure that relies on a laser to melt the vein. It has re...
More Answers
Can Spider and Varicose Veins Return Even After Treatment?
Can Spider and Varicose Veins Return Even After Treatment?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.