Throughout the United States alone, more than 40 million adults live with varicose veins, with nearly 50% having some family history of the condition. Both men and women experience vein issues, although women are more likely to see varicose veins than are men. No matter one’s gender, there are several lifestyle and heredity factors that play a role in how likely varicose veins may be. While anyone can experience vein issues as they age, the causes, severity of symptoms and side effects, and viable treatment options will differ depending on a variety of factors. Often, varicose veins are confused with their similar counterpart, thread veins, also known as spider veins. To understand what can be done to treat the unsightly vein issues one may deal with later in life, it is beneficial to know the difference between varicose veins and thread veins as either start to appear.
The Difference Between Thread and Varicose Veins
Both varicose and spider or thread veins seem to creep up on adults, often causing uncomfortable, unattractive bumps and twists beneath the skin on the legs. However, varicose veins and thread veins differ in how they appear on the human body. Varicose veins are most likely to resemble large, twisted and swollen blood vessels that are highly visible on the skin. These bulging veins can be red, purple, or blue in color and may extend as high as the thigh. Thread veins are smaller than varicose veins, but still visible beneath the skin. Instead of resembling twisting veins, thread veins often look like a spider web branching out from a central point on the leg, but they may also appear on other parts of the body.
Both varicose veins and thread veins have similar causes and risk factors, including family history of vein disorders, pregnancy, and being overweight. Individuals who stand or sit for extended periods of time may also have a higher propensity to develop varicose or thread veins as they get older. Both varicose veins and thread veins occur because there is a break down of the vein walls, leaving the veins unable to allow for normal blood flow throughout the body. When too much pressure is put on veins, the chronic and progressive issue of varicose or thread vein disorders is likely to occur.
While the reasons behind varicose and thread veins are similar, there is a more apparent difference between the two when it comes to side effects. The majority of adults who experience thread veins feel little to no discomfort in the form of pain. However, the area affected may itch or sting from time to time. Individuals with varicose veins, however, often experience more severe symptoms, including a heaviness in the legs or feet, aching in the joints, and swelling. Those who have varicose veins may also have itching and stinging where the vein disorder is taking place, along with night cramps and restless legs. For nearly all adults with varicose or thread veins, the cosmetic woes that come with the issue are enough to seek out treatment.
Options for Treatment
Another area where varicose and thread veins differ is in treatment for either condition. Eddie Chaloner, vein specialist with Radiance Vein Clinic, explains that the most effective treatment for thread veins is by injection sclerotherapy. This is a technique that utilizes a tiny needle injecting the chemical sclerosant into the vein. With injection sclerotherapy, the inside of the vein is damaged to the point it creates a blockage, and it ultimately fades and disappears. Chaloner states that the treatment carries very few risks, although there may be visible bruising appear at the injection site for some individuals.
Varicose veins are more often treated with minimally invasive alternatives, including the use of compression stockings while at home or at work, and changes to lifestyle behaviours such as losing weight or exercising more often. For some, Endovenous laser treatment, known as EVLT, may be a viable option for those with varicose veins. EVLT is a procedure in which a small laser fiber is inserted into the vein, and pulses of light are delivered which ultimately make the vein collapse. The best treatment option for either varicose or thread veins will depend on the severity of the vein disorder and the intended outcome for each individual patient.
Although varicose and thread veins may not present painful symptoms or spark cause for concern among most adults, there are certain cases that require immediate attention. When veins that are broken down are not treated for a long period, individuals have the potential to develop a vein ulcer. These can be incredibly painful and require complex treatments in order to heal properly. Similarly, untreated vein issues may lead to more complex medical issues, like spontaneous bleeding, superficial thrombophlebitis, or even deep vein thrombosis which could be life threatening. In order to avoid these more serious conditions that develop as a result of vein disorders like varicose and thread veins, it is important for people to see a vein care specialist as soon as possible.