Similar to varicose veins, spider veins are noticeably smaller, appear closer to the surface of the skin and are usually blue or red in color. Spider veins are the visible surface manifestations of an underlying condition known as venous insufficiency. Appearing primarily on the face and legs, spider veins resemble the branches of a tree or spider web and tend to develop more often on women than men. It is estimated that nearly 50% of all adults over 50 will develop spider veins at some point.

Spider veins are often associated with painful aching or cramping in the legs. Some other common symptoms include throbbing, tingling or burning in the affected area.

Spider veins begin to develop when the heart pumps oxygen-filled blood through the circulatory system. Arteries carry blood away from the heart towards different parts of the body. The veins then return oxygen-poor blood from the body to the heart. The constriction of leg muscles pumps blood back to the heart from the lower parts of the body. Veins have valves made to prevent the blood from flowing backwards while it moves back up the legs. If the valves begin to leak, blood may seep back into the vein and begin to pool there. The collected blood expands and causes the capillaries to break.

Spider veins can also occur as a result of hormonal changes, during pregnancy, prolonged periods of sitting or standing, and extreme weight gain.

While usually presenting no real health hazard, the patient may suffer increasing discomfort after long periods of standing. Also, advanced cases of spider veins may be harmful to a person's health because the condition may be associated with the development of phlebitis and ulcers

Treatment and preventative methods range from things as simple as wearing elastic support stockings and avoiding constricting clothing to avoiding high-salt diets which cause your legs to retain water or swell.

When necessary more invasive treatments may be employed, including a common procedure known as sclerotherapy. During this treatment a concentrated saline solution is injected through a small needle into the spider vein. This pickles the inside of the vein so that it can close up. It then later collapses and eventually becomes scar tissue that will be absorbed by the body.

Also, intense-pulsed-light (IPL) therapy has recently proven effective for smaller surface vessels, like those found on the face. With IPL therapy treatment, ablative doses of thermal energy are relayed to the vessel, causing the veins to shrink in size.

As with any condition, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A few tips to reduce the chance of spider veins from developing in the first place include wearing a sunscreen with a minimum spf 15 to protect your skin from the rays of the sun and to limit spider veins on the face. Also, try to avoid standing or sitting for extended periods of time. If standing for long periods cannot be avoided, practice shifting your weight from one leg to the other every few minutes.