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My grandmother, mother, and I all have similar clusters of visible veins on the backs of our knees, and other, smaller visible veins on our legs. It's a running joke in our family that they're passed down from generation to generation like a precious heirloom. These veins are called varicose veins and spider veins—they're two different things—and they can happen for a variety of reasons, genetics being one of them.
To get all the details about varicose veins versus spider veins, I consulted Parvaneh Rafaeloff, MD, a medical doctor at Le Jolie Medi Spa. Here, she breaks down everything you need to know about these types of veins and how to prevent/treat them.
Varicose Veins vs. Spider Veins
"Varicose veins are distended, superficial veins under the skin that usually look inflamed and blue in color," Rafaeloff explains. "They're commonly found on weight-bearing areas of the body in particular, like the legs and thighs." Additionally, varicose veins can also look "ropey."
Spider veins, on the other hand, are much smaller. They're typically very thin and blue or red in color, she says. Plus, spider veins can be found on any area of the body, though they tend to show up mostly on the legs and face.
Why Do They Happen?
Both varicose and spider veins can be genetic (thanks, Mom!), but there are also other reasons they occur. "Both varicose and spider veins occur when pressure is placed on a main vein" Rafaeloff says. "The pressure can return the blood back and engorges the superficial veins, causing varicose and spider veins." One common culprit is sitting or standing for long periods of time.
Can You Prevent Them?
There are some things you can do to prevent varicose and spider veins from forming. Rafaeloff says to avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time, which can put pressure on your veins. If you do find yourself in a situation where you have to stand a lot, switch your weight from leg to leg. This will help "pump" your veins, according to Rafaeloff. And if you sit a lot, try taking quick walk breaks. "Short walks help to pump the blood to the veins," she explains.
Another one of her tips is to put your feet up after work for at least 20 minutes. "You can also massage areas prone to varicose veins and soak in a warm bath with Epsom salt," she says.
Can You Get Rid of Them?
"In mild cases, wearing compression stockings or socks can be a form of treatment," Rafaeloff says. "In moderate cases, Sclerotherapy, a quick injection treatment we offer at our West Hollywood and Studio City locations, instantaneously and dramatically reduces the appearances of spider and varicose veins that are less than five millimeters distended," she explains.
For more severe cases—for instance, if the veins are painful, distended, and swollen—she says that invasive surgery or laser treatments would be the best medical option.
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