Spider Veins and Dilated Capillaries: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Spider veins

Although not as visible or unaesthetic as varicose veins, spider veins and dilated capillaries are a common concern for a shocking number of women worldwide and a good percentage of the men. Because neither spider veins nor dilated capillaries are as advanced as varicose veins, both surgical treatment and natural remedies can be used successfully.

Both spider veins and dilated capillaries are caused by blood circulation problems and are significantly more common in women than in men. Spider veins generally appear on the back of the legs, especially behind the knees or thigh, on the bridge and sides of the foot and on the face. Dilated capillaries tend to appear frequently on the face, especially on the nose or cheeks, but also on the legs. However, there is no set rule for where they appear as our body is full of blood vessels.

Dilated capillaries

What are spider veins? Spider veins are a type of twisted, raised and enlarged veins, similar to varicose veins. While varicose veins are thicker, wider than 2 millimetres, spider veins are thinner, no wider than 2 millimetres. Spider veins are basically swollen or enlarged veins that protrude or raise above the surface of the skin. What do spider veins look like? Spider veins are deep red, bluish or purplish protruding, twisted veins, visible through the skin. They can appear on the legs (back of the calves especially) or face.

What are dilated capillaries? Capillaries are the smallest, finest blood vessels in our body, responsible for micro-circulation. They are grouped together in capillary beds, or clusters of capillaries. Dilated capillaries, incorrectly known as broken capillaries, are also enlarged blood vessels, no wider than 0.2 mm. What do dilated capillaries look like? Dilated capillaries are thread-like deep red or pink-red clusters or patches of blood vessels visible through the skin. They often appear on the legs and face and look like networks of blood vessels, trees or spider webs.

Why do spider veins and dilated capillaries appear? Although there are many contributing factors, it is suggested that both spider veins and dilated capillaries appear as a result of poor blood circulation brought on by various causes.

Dilated capillaries are generally no reason for concern on their own, but can indicate the presence of an underlying medical condition. Spider veins on the other hand may evolve into varicose veins. If they do, symptoms such as tenderness, pain, aching and overall discomfort, heaviness, dermatitis, skin ulcers, blood clots, ankle and leg swelling, skin discoloration, dryness, itchiness, cramps, tingling sensation and bleeding may appear.

Spider veins

What causes spider veins?

Here is a list of the most common causes of spider veins:
1) Heredity.
2) Blood circulation problems.
3) Prolonged standing.
4) Sitting in the same position for prolonged periods of time.
5) Sedentarism (contributes to poor blood circulation).
6) Vein inflammation (phlebitis). Also causes varicose veins.
7) Blood clotting.
8) Obesity.
9) Pregnancy.
10) Hormonal changes (as a result of birth control use, pregnancy, puberty, hormone therapy).
11) Abdominal straining as a result of lifting heavy objects, pregnancy, chronic constipation etc.
12) Injury, trauma or previous surgery.
13) Alcohol consumption.

What causes dilated capillaries?

Dilated capillaries, on the other hand, can be caused by the following:
1) Rosacea (skin condition causing redness, dilated blood vessels).
2) Skin damage from too much sun exposure.
3) UV radiation as a result of unprotected sun exposure.
4) Sudden changes from hot to cold (for example, going outside in the cold in winter after staying in a warm room for some time).
5) Hormonal changes.
6) Certain medication.
7) Photosensitivity disorders.
8) Certain surgical procedures.
9) Heredity.
10) Dilated capillaries can also appear for no reason.

What to do about them

Treatment options may vary from person to person and depend on the severity of the condition, possible medical restrictions etc. Professional treatments may include procedures that either close or remove problematic veins. Self-care treatment options are also available and can help improve skin and blood vessel aspect and even stop the progression of the conditions.

Removing spider veins and dilated capillaries is not dangerous because these types of veins that protrude the skin and become raised and twisted no longer serve their purpose, which is to efficiently transport blood back to the heart and oxygen and nutrients to tissues. If some blood vessels become functionless, our body does not create new ones, but instead makes existing blood vessels in their vicinity take over and perform the necessary actions themselves.

Professional treatment options for spider veins and capillaries may include:
1) Sclerotherapy refers to injecting a medicine into problematic veins such as varicose or spider veins, dilated capillaries, hemorrhoids or malformed veins to shrink them. If done correctly, the procedure is successful in over 75% of cases. If the medication is not injected into the problematic vein, scarring, tissue necrosis, vein inflammation and other reversible side effects may appear. Redness, mild swelling or bruising may appear, but should fade in a matter of hours or days. This treatment is not recommended for pregnant and nursing women.

2) Laser or intense pulsed light treatment. Endovenous laser treatments are successfully used for the treatment of dilated capillaries, spider veins and varicose veins. A catheter with an optical fiber is inserted into the problematic veins, a local anesthetic is released, after which an infrared laser light is shone into the vein to make it contract. Discomfort, pain, edema or hematomas may occur in some cases, but the procedure is safe and effective and does not require recovery.

3) Radiofrequency. Problematic veins such as spider veins as well as varicose veins respond well to this treatment. Again, a small catheter is inserted into the problematic vein. Using radiofrequency energy, the problematic vein is heated up and closed shut. Local anesthesia may be required. Complications such as skin burning are rare.

4) Using compression stockings. Compression stocking are especially created to improve blood flow, prevent vein enlargement, prevent blood clots, improve vein function and bothersome symptoms such as pain and aches, heaviness or ulcers in both spider veins and varicose veins.

5) Surgery. This is an invasive treatment option, generally recommended for varicose veins, rarely for spider veins. Problematic veins can be either removed or closed. Ambulatory phlebectomy presupposes the removal of portions of veins with the help of tiny incisions that do not require stitches. Local or general anesthesia are required.

Tips and advice

Preventing spider veins and dilated capillaries as well as their progression can be done by following these simple rules and lifestyle changes:

1) Improve blood circulation. Taking a short walk after sitting at the office all day can help restore normal circulation, prevent and even improve spider veins aspect.

2) Lose weight. Being overweight increases the pressure on your legs and discourages the already faulty veins in the legs to send blood back to where it belongs. Slimming down to a normal weight through healthy eating and moderate exercising can be very good for your if you have a predisposition for spider veins as well as varicose veins.

3) Enjoy a good massage. This will help improve blood flow and restore micro-circulation in your feet and legs (because that is where spider veins and varicose veins appear most often).

4) Keep your legs elevated. Spider veins and their more aggravated form, varicose veins, appear as a result of the veins in our bottom half not sending blood back to the heart efficiently. Keeping legs elevated, on a pillow or two for example, can help improve blood flow and vein aspect.

5) Enjoy an antioxidant-rich diet. Including more antioxidant in your diet by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables can help improve vein health. Vitamin C is particularly important as it encourages the production of collagen and blood vessel health.

6) More bioflavonoids in your diet. Hesperidin, rutin, diosmin are all important flavonoids found in oranges, grapefruit, mulberries, aronia, cranberries, lemons, lime, peaches, green tea and so on. Diosmin has vasoconstricting properties and helps maintain the integrity of vein walls. Rutin has been shown to improve blood circulation, reduce inflammation and prevent blood clots, hence its use in the treatment of varicose veins, spider veins and hemorrhoids. Hesperidin promotes blood flow.

7) Apple cider vinegar. Some people rub their affected areas with a little apple cider vinegar to help improve aspect and reduce discomfort caused by both spider veins and varicose veins.

8) Spices and spicy foods. Ginger, chili peppers, garlic are all said to help improve spider veins because of their heating effect which is believed to have a direct action on the problematic blood vessels.

9) Avoid alcohol. Alcohol consumption can actually lead to spider veins, varicose veins and even dilated capillaries because it encourages the dilation of blood vessels. People who drink large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis tend to develop clusters of tiny, ‘broken’ blood vessels on their cheeks and nose.

10) Avoid certain sitting positions. Although sitting with your legs crossed does not cause vein problems, it can worsen an existing condition. The position itself limits blood flow. Sitting with your legs underneath you all the time until they feel numb can have a similar effect.

11) Do not smoke. Research points out that heavy smokers are up to three times more likely to develop vascular problems, including spider veins on the face, nose and cheeks as well as legs.

12) Limit salt intake. Eating too much salt can have a negative effect on blood vessel health and may contribute to spider veins.

13) Wear appropriate shoes. If you have a predisposition for varicose veins, spider veins or dilated capillaries, wearing inappropriate shoes such as high heels or tight shoes can aggravate the condition.

14) Use sunscreen. Dilated capillaries can be a direct effect of staying in the sun for too long without sunscreen protection. The radiation from the sun can cause the unaesthetic ‘broken capillaries’ appearance.

15) Avoid going from hot to cold too fast. If you stay in a heated room for some time then go outside where it’s cold (think low winter temperatures), you might notice red capillaries appearing on your face. This is because the heat of a fireplace, for example, causes the blood vessels on our face (which is the most exposed area) to dilate. Going in the cold forces them to shrink all of a sudden (the lower the temperatures, the greater the shock), hence their unaesthetic aspect afterwards.

While they are generally no reason for concern, both spider veins and dilated capillaries are best treated at the doctor’s. Following the above tricks can help prevent any further complications, ease symptoms of discomfort and even prevent new veins from becoming enlarged. Nevertheless, it might be best to first go see your doctor to rule out any potentially serious underlying condition.