Spider Veins


What Is It?

Spider veins occur when tiny veins congregate below the surface of the skin, causing red, blue or purple discolorations. Spider veins get their name from the shape of the discolorations, which can look a bit like a spider with several outreaching “legs.” Spider veins can be quite small or can be more noticeable. They may make you feel self-conscious, but they are harmless, and any treatment done is usually to improve appearance.

Spider veins are most common on the thighs, ankles and calves, and are more common in women than men. Their cause isn’t completely understood in every case, but they can run in families. Some cases are related to pregnancy, use of birth-control pills or weight gain.

Other types of problematic veins that can appear similar to spider veins from a distance include:

  • Telangiectasias, which are dilated capillaries close to the skin, and tend to be more noticeable on the face, whereas spider veins more commonly occur on the legs and feet
  • Hemangiomas and angiomas, which are made up of very small arteries called arterioles

Sometimes, the terms spider veins and telangiectasias are used interchangeably.


Red or bluish-purple blood vessels appear, usually on the legs or thighs, but sometimes on the face, forearms or hands. Spider veins usually do not produce any symptoms, but may rarely cause a mild dull discomfort or burning sensation.


Your health-care provider can diagnose spider veins based on the appearance of these tiny vessels.

Expected Duration

Spider veins may be permanent or may disappear on their own after a period of months, especially if they are the result of pregnancy or certain medications.


Since the causes of spider veins aren’t completely understood, they can’t always be prevented. Maintaining a healthy weight and remaining physically fit are helpful.

If you have spider veins, you might help to avoid developing more of them by not standing still for prolonged periods of time and wearing support hose.


Spider veins do not require treatment. In some people, support stockings may decrease the size of existing spider veins and help to prevent new ones from occurring. The two most common cosmetic treatments for spider veins are sclerotherapy and laser treatment:

  • Sclerotherapy has been used the longest. A salt solution is injected directly into the affected area, causing the veins to collapse. The area may be tender for a few days and it may bruise, but bruising should fade over a few weeks. Sclerotherapy may require multiple treatments. The injections can be slightly painful.
  • Laser treatment directs pulses from a laser light to the spider veins, causing tiny blood clots to form. The blood vessels become blocked off and eventually are reabsorbed by the body.

When To Call A Professional

Spider veins are not harmful to your overall health. If you are self-conscious about your spider veins, or they become painful or tender, see your doctor about the possibility of treatment.


If you decide on cosmetic treatment for your spider veins, you can expect a 50-percent to 90-percent improvement. You may require several treatment sessions to achieve the desired result. After treatment is completed, a slight discoloration of the skin may remain for weeks or even as long as a year before fading. In many cases, spider veins disappear entirely, but they can recur.


Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised:

Diseases and Conditions Center

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.