Varicose veins / spider veins – causes, symptoms and risk factors

Varicose veins

You should know that when we talk about varicose veins, then we mean to veins that are gnarled and enlarged veins. Any vein in your body can become varicose but the veins that are most commonly affected are those in the feet and legs. This is happening because the walking and standing are increasing the pressure in the veins of your lower body. There are many people who have varicose veins and spider veins (spider veins are a common and mild variation of the varicose veins) and this problem is just a cosmetic concern for them. But there are other people in whom varicose veins can cause discomfort and aching pain [1]. There are some cases when the varicose veins can lead to more – serious problems. Also when you have varicose veins, then they can signal a higher risk of circulatory problems. The treatment of varicose veins can involve self – care measures or procedures that are described by your doctor to close or to remove the veins.

Varicose veins symptoms

This condition may not cause any pain. Here are some signs that you may have varicose veins:

  • Veins that appear twisted and bulging; often like cords on your legs
  • Veins that are dark purple or blue in color

When the painful signs and symptoms happen [1], then they can include:

  • Color changes, hardening of the vein, inflammation of the skin or skin ulcer near your ankle, which can mean you have a serious form of vascular disease that required medical attention
  • A painful cord in the vein with red discoloration of the skin
  • Bleeding from varicose veins
  • Itching around one or more of your veins
  • Worsened pain after sitting or standing for a long time
  • Burning, throbbing, muscle cramping and swelling in your lower legs
  • An achy or heavy feelings in your legs

Spider veins are similar to the varicose veins but they are smaller. Spider veins are found closer to the surface of your skin and they are often blue or red. They happen on the legs but also they can be found on the face [2]. Spider veins can vary in the size and they often look like a spider’s web.

Varicose veins

Varicose veins causes

We know that arteries carry blood from the heart to the rest of your tissues. Veins are returning the blood from the rest of the body to the heart so your blood can be recirculated. But to return the blood to the heart, veins in the legs must work against the gravity. The muscle contractions in the lower leg act as pumps and the elastic vein walls will help the blood to return to the heart. The tiny valves in the veins open as the blood flows toward the heart and then close to stop the blood from flowing backward. Here are the causes of varicose veins:

  • Age: As we are getting older, our veins lose elasticity which causes them to stretch. The valves in the veins can become weak which is allowing the blood that should be moving toward the heart to flow backward. Blood pools in the veins and the veins enlarge which makes them to become varicose. Veins are blue because they have deoxygenated blood which is in the process of being recirculated through the lungs. [3]
  • Pregnancy: There are some pregnant women who can develop varicose veins. It is known fact that the pregnancy increase the volume of blood in their bodies but it is decreasing the flow of the blood from the legs to their pelvis. It is known that this circulatory change is designed to support the growing fetus but also it can lead to unfortunate side effect and that is enlarged veins in the legs. Varicose veins can show for the first time or they can worsen during the late pregnancy when the uterus exerts greater pressure on the veins in the legs. Also the changes in the hormones during the pregnancy can play a role in it. In the most cases the varicose veins which are developing during the pregnancy improve without medical treatment 3 – 12 months after the delivery. [4]

Risk factors: Here are some factors that increase your risk of varicose veins:

  • Age: Older people are having bigger chances of having varicose veins. [3]
  • Sex: Women are more likely to develop this condition.
  • Family history: If someone from your family had varicose veins, then you have greater chances of developing them. [5]
  • Obesity: The extra weight puts added pressure on the veins. [6]


[1] Danziger N. Pathophysiology of pain in venous disease. Phlebolymphology. Retrieved from

[2] Smith V, Whiteley M. Facial veins – diagnosis and treatment options. PMFA Journal. 2019;6(2). Retrieved from

[3] University Of Delaware. Veins stiffen as we age, Researchers show. Science Daily. 2006. Retrieved from

[4] Junior NdB, Perez MDCJ, de Amorim JE, Junior FM. Pregnancy and lower limb varicose veins: prevalence and risk factors. Jornal Vascular Brasileiro. 2010;9(2).

[5] Vashist M, Sharma S, Vahist MG. Family history as major predisposing factor in varicose veins disorder. European Journal of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences. 2017;4(12):392-6.

[6] van Rij AM, De Alwis CS, Jiang P, et al. Obesity and impaired venous function. European Journal of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery. 2008;35(6):739-44.


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