Spider veins are those small weblike networks of red, purple and blue vessels that are easily visible through the skin and found most commonly on the legs and ankles. Women are more susceptible than men to develop them and those with blood relatives with spider veins are more predisposed to developing these roadmap veins. Heredity seems to play an important role in the development of spider veins. There is little scientific evidence that crossing the legs causes spider veins.
Spider veins are usually painless and are more of a cosmetic concern for most but rarely can cause a dull ache or burning sensation, especially after standing on one's feet for prolonged periods of time.
Although laser light therapy is an option for spider veins, sclerotherapy, a proven procedure that has been performed since the 1930's, is still considered the gold standard treatment for spider veins on the legs and ankles. With a very fine needle, the small veins are injected with a sclerosing agent (usually a salt solution) that irritates and eventually scars the inside lumen of the veins causing them to fade from view. More than one treatment is often necessary but this procedure is usually quite effective. Sclerotherapy can be done in the doctor's office with each treatment taking approximately 15-30 minutes. Side effects include localized swelling, itching, skin color changes that usually fade with time, and rarely skin ulceration. The development of new tiny vessels may occur at injection sites but often fade after several months.
Because the exact cause of spider veins is unknown, they cannot always be prevented. Try to maintain a healthy weight and stay physically fit.
Spider veins are not harmful to overall health, but, if self conscious about them, see a dermatologist for possible therapy options.