Spider Veins and Dilated Capillaries: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Spider veins

Although not as visible or as unaesthetic as varicose veins, spider veins and dilated capillaries are a common concern for a shocking number of women worldwide and an equally important percentage of men. Because neither spider veins nor dilated capillaries are as advanced as varicose veins, both surgical treatment options 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 thighs, on the bridge and sides of the foot and on the face. Dilated capillaries tend to appear quite frequently on the face, especially on the sides of the nose and on the cheeks, but also on the legs. However, there is no set rule for where they appear as our body is full of blood vessels which can equally be affected by circulatory issues.

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 millimeters, spider veins are thinner, no wider than 2 millimeters. 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, protruding, twisted veins, usually red, bluish or purplish in color and visible through the skin. They can appear on the legs such as the back of the calves or face.

What are dilated capillaries?

Capillaries are the smallest, finest blood vessels in the body responsible for micro-circulation. They are grouped together in capillary beds, or clusters of capillaries. Dilated capillaries, incorrectly called broken capillaries, are also enlarged blood vessels, no wider than 0.2 mm (millimeters).

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 reminiscent of trees or spider webs.

Why do we get spider veins and dilated capillaries?

Why do spider veins and dilated capillaries appear? Although there are many contributing factors, it is widely accepted by the medical community that both spider veins and dilated capillaries are the result of poor blood circulation brought on by various causes.

Dilated capillaries are generally no reason for concern by themselves, but can indicate the presence of an underlying medical condition. Spider veins on the other hand may evolve into varicose veins. As they progress, 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 and affect quality of life, work productivity and social interactions.

Spider veins

What causes spider veins?

Below is a list of the most common causes of spider veins:

  • Heredity – spider veins are inherited, primarily from close relatives such as first degree relatives.
  • Existing blood circulation problems.
  • Prolonged standing (represents a major risk factor).
  • Sitting in the same position for prolonged periods of time.
  • Sedentarism due to its involvement in causing and/or worsening blood circulation problems.
  • Vein inflammation (phlebitis). Also causes varicose veins.
  • Blood clotting issues.
  • Excess weight, especially obesity.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Hormonal changes caused by birth control use, pregnancy, puberty, hormone therapy, underlying medical conditions (e.g. PCOS, tumors).
  • Abdominal straining as a result of lifting heavy objects, pregnancy, chronic constipation etc.
  • Injury, trauma or previous surgery to the affected area.
  • Alcohol consumption.

What causes dilated capillaries?

Dilated capillaries can be caused by the following:

  • Rosacea (a skin condition causing redness and dilated blood vessels as primary symptoms).
  • Skin damage from sun exposure, more specifically, UV radiation as a result of unprotected and excessive sun exposure.
  • Sudden changes such as going from hot to cold e.g. going outside in the cold in winter after staying in a warm room for quite some time.
  • Hormonal changes.
  • Certain medication.
  • Photosensitivity disorders.
  • Certain surgical procedures.
  • Heredity – if a first or second degree relative has dilated capillaries, you stand a higher chance of inheriting them.
  • Dilated capillaries can also appear for (apparently) no reason.

What to do about spider veins & dilated capillaries?

The best treatment options for spider veins and dilated capillaries may vary from person to person depending on the severity of the condition, potential medical restrictions, cost of procedures and availability of a specific range of medical care options, among other factors.

Professional treatment 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 appearance and possibly even stop the progression of the conditions.

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

Professional treatment options for spider veins and capillaries may include:

  • 1- Sclerotherapy

Sclerotherapy refers to injecting a medication into problematic veins such as varicose veins or spider veins, dilated capillaries, hemorrhoids or malformed veins in order 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 with precision, scarring, tissue necrosis, vein inflammation and other reversible side effects may appear.

Redness, mild swelling or bruising may also occur, but are temporary side effects that 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 used successfully 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 a certain percentage of cases, but the procedure is overall quite safe and effective and does not require recovery.

  • 3- Radiofrequency

Problematic veins such as spider veins as well as varicose veins respond well to radiofrequency as treatment. Again, a small catheter is inserted into the problematic vein. Using radiofrequency energy, the problematic vein is heated and closed shut. Local anesthesia may be required.

Complications such as skin burning are rare, but known to occur. The frequency and severity of complications are determined by individual responses to the treatment and experience and professional abilities of the medical professional performing the procedure.

  • 4- Using compression stockings

Compression stocking are stockings especially created to improve blood flow in the legs, prevent vein enlargement and 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 and a last-resort option, generally recommended for varicose veins and rarely for spider veins. Problematic veins can be either removed altogether 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 to more severe forms that impact self-image and quality of life is sometimes possible and the following simple rules and lifestyle changes can help. Take measures to:

  • Improve blood circulation

Taking a short walk during your lunch break after sitting at the office half a day, and after work or after dinner is great for you circulation and overall cardiovascular health. Plain walking can help tremendously with restoring normal circulation which can, in turn, help prevent and even improve the appearance of spider veins.

  • Lose excess weight

Being overweight increases the pressure on your legs and vascular system and discourages the already faulty veins in the legs to effectively send blood back to where it belongs. Slimming down to a normal weight through healthy eating and moderate exercising or simply an active lifestyle can be very good for your health, more so if you have a predisposition for spider veins and varicose veins.

  • Get a massage

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

  • 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.

  • Enjoy an antioxidant-rich diet

Including more antioxidants in your diet by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables can help improve vascular health and the appearance of veins. Vitamin C is particularly important as it encourages the production of collagen needed for the elasticity of blood vessels.

  • Get more bioflavonoids in your diet

Hesperidin, rutin, diosmin, citrulline are all important flavonoids found in oranges, grapefruit, mulberries, aronia, cranberries, lemons, lime, peaches, green tea, white part of the watermelon rind and so many other foods. 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 good blood flow. Citrulline from the white part of the watermelon rind is especially good for blood circulation and vascular health. See the benefits of citrulline.

  • Use apple cider vinegar

Some people rub the affected areas with a little apple cider vinegar to help improve the appearance of the affected blood vessels and reduce discomfort caused by both spider veins and varicose veins.

  • Use 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. However, use with caution because excessive use can produce skin damage.

  • 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 sides of the nose, often times also a red nose.

  • Avoid certain sitting positions that restrict circulation

Although sitting with your legs crossed is not what actually causes problems with your veins in the first place, 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 also restrict blood circulation and add to the side effects.

  • 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, but also more serious cardiovascular problems such as increased risks of heart attack and stroke.

  • Limit your salt intake

Eating too much salt has a negative effect on general health, but more notably on blood vessel health, and may contribute to spider veins, varicose veins and dilated capillaries. Salt is a major cause of water retention and swelling and puts pressure on the vascular system which can worsen existing conditions such as varicose veins and dilated capillaries.

  • Wear appropriate shoes

If you have a predisposition for varicose veins, spider veins or dilated capillaries, or have already developed any of these conditions, wearing inappropriate shoes such as high heels or tight shoes can aggravate them.

Choose shoes with orthopedic properties, made from appropriate materials, without heels, and built to provide adequate structure to the natural curvature of the sole of the foot. Orthopedic shoes provide much needed support and lessen the effects of long periods of standing and excess time spent on your feet, helping your feet feel much less sore, tired and swollen at the end of the day.

  • Use sunscreen

Dilated capillaries can be a direct effect of staying in the sun for too long without sunscreen to provide protection against UV damage to the skin. The radiation from the sun is known to cause and especially worsen the unaesthetic ‘broken capillaries’ appearance.

  • Avoid going from hot to cold too fast

If you stay in a heated room for some time then go outside where it’s a lot colder (think low winter temperatures), you might notice large red spots appearing on the face as well as tiny red blood vessels in a spider veins-type of pattern predominantly on the cheeks and sides of the nose. This is the capillaries on your face reacting to a drastic drop in temperature causing them to go from dilated to contracted in very little time.

The heat of a fireplace or central heating system, for example, causes the blood vessels on the face, which is the most exposed area, to dilate. Going in the cold forces the blood vessels to shrink rapidly as the lower the temperatures cause a contracting effect. The temperature difference producing a type of shock severely affects capillaries as they are close to the surface of the skin.

Observation

While they are generally not a reason for serious concern, as in a life-threatening disease, both spider veins and dilated capillaries are best treated and this should be done at the doctor’s. Following the above tricks can potentially help prevent complications, ease symptoms of discomfort and even prevent new veins from becoming enlarged. Nevertheless, it’s best to go see your doctor for a professional assessment and a personalized treatment plan.