What’s the difference between spider veins and varicose veins?

If you’ve got visible veins on your skin, you may be wondering whether they are varicose veins or spider veins. Both cause red or purplish veins to be visible, and are both forms of venous insufficiency, but they are not the same thing. 

If you have spider veins, they won’t turn into varicose veins, as the two are different conditions. Both, however, can be treated quickly and easily at East Tennessee Vein Clinic. We’ve helped many patients get back the legs they know and love over the years.  

"The staff and office are top notch,” said a recent patient. “My initial visit was very thorough, not rushed. They explained every procedure and educated me on the layers of veins in my legs and what can be problematic. My treatment visits to date have been great and Michelle talked through everything, made me comfortable, and made amazing progress just in the first visit for treatment of my spider veins. I look forward to continuing to work with this office!"

Differences between varicose veins and spider veins

Varicose veins and spider veins are both abnormal, dilated blood vessels. While they do have things in common, there are a few simple ways to tell the two apart. 


Spider veins are typically thin and just on the surface of the skin. They can look like thin lines, or like branched webbing. Varicose veins and spider veins are both thin or purplish-blue, but varicose veins are usually thicker. Varicose veins are also usually raised, while spider veins are not. 


Spider veins are most frequently found on the legs and face. Varicose veins are typically found in the legs, and aren’t always visible. Spider veins are on the surface of the skin, while varicose veins are deeper, and can have a bulging, twisted appearance. Varicose veins may not even be visible at all — sometimes, what you see is just the tip of the iceberg. 


Varicose veins can be very painful, while spider veins are a cosmetic issue and don’t typically cause pain. Varicose veins can cause a feeling of heaviness, discomfort or swelling in the legs.


In healthy veins, tiny valves in your veins open as blood flows toward your heart, then close to stop blood from flowing backward. If these valves are weak or damaged, blood can flow backward and pool in the vein, causing the veins to stretch or twist. Both are the result of genetics, for the most part. Spider veins can also be caused by sunlight, hormonal changes, or an injury.

Both conditions can be treated with simple outpatient procedures. Neither go away on their own and will get worse over time, but both can be treated simply at East Tennessee Vein Clinic

Venous disease

Both of these issues are classified as venous disease, and they develop when the valves and walls of the veins are weak. That causes blood to pool in the veins, which increases the pressure in the veins and causes them to become enlarged. Around 23% of the U.S. population has some level of varicose veins. However, this number rises to about 80% of the population if you include spider veins and reticular veins as well. 


Both spider veins and varicose veins are hereditary. If your parents or grandparents had them, there’s a strong chance you will, too. If a biological parent has varicose veins, you have a 40% chance of getting them, too. And that’s if just one parent has them. If both have varicose veins, your chance jumps up to 90%. 

If you’re embarrassed by your spider veins or feel that they are keeping you from living your best life, our team at East Tennessee Vein Clinic can help you get rid of them. The same is true for treatment of varicose veins.

“I am beyond thankful that I chose East Tennessee Vein Clinic for treatment on my varicose and spider veins,” said former patient K. Lively.  “Dr Douglass and his entire staff are amazing. They treat you like family and I honestly look forward to going in for my visits. They explain everything that needs to be done and make sure you are 100% comfortable during a procedure. I can tell a huge difference already in the way my legs feel.”

Similarly, patient L.H. had “horrible spider veins” on her thighs from a previous surgery that kept her from wearing shorts and skirts for years. 

“After a few quick and easy appointments, my legs saw the sun for the first time in a decade,” she said in a recent online review. “Now I go in once a year for maintenance. I regret not having done this sooner. The staff is so kind and helpful too. It’s such a small and easy procedure that makes the biggest difference in how I look and feel."

If you’re ready to get rid of your spider veins or varicose veins, schedule a free screening and see if treatment is right for you! Visit us online at East Tennessee Vein Clinic and request an appointment online. You can also call our office at 866-281-VEIN.

“I could not have asked for a better experience. Thank you, Dr. Douglass and staff!”

- S.L., Sweetwater, TN