What Causes Varicose and Spider Veins

When a vein is operating in a healthy way, it returns blood though the circulatory system and sends it back to the heart.

Varicose and spider veins, known in the medical community as venous insufficiency, occur when blood is backed-up in the vein and not flowing smoothly. The result is an aesthetically unattractive, and at times physically painful, visible vein condition. An excess of blood in the veins can also be caused by hormonal changes and injuries.

Veins affected by venous insufficiency can take on a number of physical characteristics, such as discoloration and/or a bulging, cordlike feel. They typically appear on the legs and are an especially common nuisance for women. The main reason they’re so common on the legs is because the veins are acting against gravity in that area of the body-the heart pumps blood out to all areas of the body, and the legs have valves that act as one-way flaps for incoming and outgoing blood. When the blood has reached the furthest points of the body, the veins pump the blood back to the heart. Over time, the valves in the lower half of the body can weaken, resulting in an excess of blood in the veins in the legs. This is when we describe the veins as “varicose.” They can itch and cause pain, fatigue, rashes, or swelling, but are, fortunately, very treatable.

Spider veins refer to the name of the visible vein that many patients want to treat. So-named because the affected vein “spiderwebs” visibly over the skin, spider veins are not normally a very serious condition. However, they can cause mild to moderate discomfort. Varicose veins can cause moderate discomfort as well, and may also indicate a larger underlying health condition such as a blood clot. Although there is no cure for weakened vein valves themselves, there are a few preventative steps you can take to minimize their appearance or more from occurring.

  • Exercise regularly to cultivate a healthy circulatory system and to maintain a healthy weight—an overweight body puts additional stress on the legs.
  • Don’t cross your legs for long periods of time when sitting and don’t wear high heels for extended periods of time.
  • Eat a high-fiber diet to prevent constipation, a condition which increases the odds that you’ll develop varicose or spider veins.

If you’re concerned about prolonged soreness, cramps in your legs, or the physical appearance of your veins, it’s always a good idea to see a professional.

Meet Our Doctor

Dr. Safvi received his medical degree from the University of Illinois, School of Medicine. He completed his residency at Northwestern University, becoming Board Certified in Interventional Radiology and Phlebology.


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