All About Telangiectasia (Spider Veins): Causes and Treatments

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Was this helpful?
1

Telangiectasia is a condition marked by an increase in small, visible blood vessels near the skin’s surface. Another term for them is “spider veins.”   For many people, spider veins are harmless. However, some people find them cosmetically unpleasant and choose to remove them with lasers or sclerotherapy. 

Sometimes telangiectasia is a symptom of a more serious condition.

Read on to learn about causes and risk factors for telangiectasia. This article also presents various treatments available and steps you can take to prevent spider veins.  

What is telangiectasia?

woman's leg with spider veins and varicose veins
Eloisa Ramos/Stocksy United

“Telangiectasia” is the medical term for a condition people commonly call “spider veins” because of how they look. Spider veins are small groupings of blood vessels near the surface of the skin. 

They are atypical enlargements of small blood vessels. Their thin purple, red, or blue lines often appear on the legs but can also occur in other places, including the face. 

Telangiectasia is rarely a health concern, although it can be itchy and painful. 

Many adults will develop some spider veins between 30 and 50 years old. 

Treatments usually focus on correcting the cosmetic appearance of the skin. 

Hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT) is a rare, genetically inheritable condition that causes unusually fragile blood vessels to form in vital organs, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If these vessels burst, it causes bleeding throughout the body and is life threatening. Frequent nosebleeds are a common symptom of HHT. 

What causes telangiectasia? 

Although the exact cause of telangiectasia is often unclear, some researchers believe that damage to the blood vessels may play a role. Factors that may increase the likelihood of spider veins include:

  • older adulthood
  • experiences smoking
  • pregnancy
  • experience with obesity
  • sun and wind exposure
  • varicose veins
  • overuse of steroid creams
  • injury to the area
  • genetics
  • heavy alcohol consumption 
  • prolonged sitting or standing

Sometimes telangiectasia is a symptom of a medical condition, which can include inheritable, autoimmune, and liver conditions:

How do you diagnose telangiectasia?

A medical professional will diagnose telangiectasia by physically assessing the skin and reviewing your medical history.

No labs or imaging tests are necessary for mild spider veins. However, your physician may perform Doppler ultrasound to evaluate the extent of the atypical blood vessel changes, especially when it involves the legs. They may also use ultrasound to explore the possibility of venous insufficiency. 

Read about venous insufficiency here.

How do you treat telangiectasia?

Telangiectasia treatment usually focuses on enhancing the appearance of the skin. There are several treatment methods, including:

  • Sclerotherapy: Using ultrasound imaging, the doctor injects a foam or liquid into the blood vessels. This causes scarring, which stops blood flow through them. They eventually shrink. Learn about sclerotherapy here.
  • Laser treatment: This focuses on heating the blood vessels to seal them off. Laser treatment for spider veins does not require injections or incisions in the skin. There is a chance of pigmentation changes with laser treatment.
  • Intense pulsed light (IPL): IPL devices deliver light in many wavelengths instead of a single wavelength with laser treatment. Like laser treatment, IPL heats the blood vessels and does not involve injections or incisions.
  • Microphlebectomy: This is minor surgery using small hooks to remove the damaged blood vessels.
  • Thermocoagulation: Much like laser therapy, this treatment heats the blood vessels from inside to seal them from further blood flow. The doctor inserts a fine needle through the skin and inside the vessels, then heats up the needle.  

Discuss the available treatment options with your doctor. The best one for you may depend on the severity of spider veins, your skin tone, and your preferences.

Find out if spider vein treatment is right for you here.

What does telangiectasia look like?

closeup photo of spider veins, or telangiectasias
Spider veins, or telangiectasias. Adriana Rosas / Alamy Stock Photo

Telangiectasia develops gradually and appears as thin, web-like lines. Depending on the affected blood vessels, spider veins can be blue, red, or purple. Usually, they are flat against the skin without raised areas. They are not the same as varicose veins, which are larger and raised.

Telangiectasia can form anywhere on the body, but the legs and face are most common. 

What is the outlook?

Telangiectasia typically does not cause any medical problems. Although it is mainly a cosmetic issue, spider veins can affect a person’s self-esteem. Contact a doctor for a diagnosis and consultation if you have spider veins or additional symptoms that cause you concern.

Some forms of telangiectasia bleed and cause significant problems. Telangiectasia may also occur in the brain or intestines. Treatment focuses on stopping the bleeding and preventing anemia, which is when you do not have enough red blood cells. 

Can you prevent telangiectasia?

Multiple factors play a role in causing telangiectasia, including your genetics. This can make prevention difficult. Still, consider these tips to help reduce the chance of spider veins: 

  • Maintain a moderate weight.
  • Avoid or reduce smoking.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Dress in loose clothing on the upper arms and legs.
  • Wear compression stockings if standing or walking for extended periods.
  • Reduce or avoid heavy alcohol consumption.
  • Protect your skin from the sun.
  • Limit your use of corticosteroid creams.

Learn about compression stocking uses here.

Frequently asked questions

William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS, reviewed the following questions.

What does it mean if you have telangiectasia?

Telangiectasia means you have small blood vessel clusters visible near the surface of your skin. Spider veins is a common description of them. There are rare, inheritable causes, but in most people, a combination of environmental, genetic, and lifestyle factors lead to telangiectasia.  

What is the main cause of telangiectasia?

Many times, the cause of telangiectasia is unknown. Factors that increase the chance of developing spider veins include:

  • older adulthood
  • sun and wind exposure
  • heavy alcohol consumption
  • smoking
  • family history of spider veins 

Can telangiectasia be benign?

Most of the time, telangiectasia is benign, meaning it is noncancerous. Rarely, spider veins are a symptom of a serious medical condition. A physician can determine if telangiectasia is cause for concern.

Summary

Telangiectasia involves small blood vessels visible near the skin’s surface. They have web-like appearances, and people often call them spider veins. They sometimes appear for unknown reasons. Other times, there may be genetic or environmental factors.  

Most of the time, telangiectasia is a harmless condition, and treatment focuses on removing its appearance in the skin. 

HHT is a rare, inheritable condition that causes telangiectasia in vital organs. This can lead to widespread bleeding if they burst. 

If you have concerns about telangiectasia, contact a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and next steps.

Was this helpful?
1
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2022 Aug 16
View All Vascular Conditions Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Ataxia telangiectasia. (2021). https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/5862/ataxia-telangiectasia
  2. Blood disorder. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/blooddisorders/index.html
  3. Bloom syndrome. (2021). https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/915/bloom-syndrom
  4. Gade, A., et al. (2022). Intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK580525/
  5. Nakano, L. C. U., et al. (2017). Treatment for telangiectasias and reticular veins. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6483333/
  6. Nguyen, V., et al. (2019). The pathogenesis of port wine stain and Sturge Weber syndrome: Complex interactions between genetic alterations and aberrant PAPK and PI3K activation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6539103/
  7. Samant, H., et al. (2022). Spider angioma. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507818/
  8. Sandean, D., et al. (2022). Spider veins. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK563218/
  9. Varicose veins and spider veins. (2021). https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/varicose-veins-and-spider-veins
  10. Xeroderma pigmentosum. (2021). https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/7910/xeroderma-pigmentosum