Varicose Veins vs Spider Veins: The Difference

November 13, 2023 The Vein Institute

Varicose veins vs spider veins vs feeder veins; what’s the difference? Spider, feeder, and varicose veins can range in severity from mildly annoying to becoming outright dangerous. Hence, it’s important to know the difference to make informed choices about potential treatments. Here’s our guide on these condition’s symptoms, causes, and appearance to help you do just that.

What causes spider veins, varicose veins, and feeder veins?

All of these veins develop due to a condition known as Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI). When the valves in your veins fail, blood starts flowing backwards and pooling in the vein rather than heading to the heart. Over time, the vein wall expands into a spider, feeder, or varicose vein. 

Usually, genetics are the culprit. However, lifestyle factors like inactivity, poor diet, and a profession requiring a lot of standing or sitting can increase your risk. 

It’s also important to note that spider veins can pop up without CVI. As these veins are very small, a sudden and excessive influx of blood can make them burst. Additionally, spider veins can appear when varicose or feeder veins are present. As these veins are larger, deeper, and have more of an effect on circulation, they can feed circulatory issues into the smaller surface veins.

What do they look like?

Varicose veins look like dark blue or purple cords and often appear on the legs. As they provide blood for your muscles, they are big, starting at 2.5mm in diameter. Although these are deep veins, their size causes them to protrude above the skin’s surface. 

Spider veins, meanwhile, closely resemble spider webs (thus the name). As with varicose veins, you’ll usually find spider veins on the legs, but they can also appear on the torso and face. They are only 1-1.5 mm in diameter, can be red, blue, or purple, and while they appear close to the skin surface, they don’t protrude above it.

Feeder veins (also known as reticular veins) are typically greenish or blue, 1-3 mm in diameter, and are flatter than varicose veins. Feeder veins may sometimes protrude above the skin surface, but they’re usually not visible to the naked eye. These veins can ‘feed’ spider veins, so they may appear near spider vein clusters.

What are the symptoms?

Each of these vein conditions has a chance of causing you little to no discomfort. In most cases, spider veins will only be an aesthetic issue. Varicose veins and feeder veins, however, will usually result in itching, burning, or even outright pain. Varicose veins can also develop into a dangerous condition called deep vein thrombosis, in which a blood clot forms and may prove deadly if it travels to the heart.

Will spider veins go away?

Very rarely, spider veins may fade on their own without any intervention. But in most cases, once you’ve developed them, they will need to be removed by a medical professional if you want them gone permanently.

Keep in mind that although you may find them unattractive, spider veins are not harmful. You can try to live with them or cover them up with concealer if they really bother you. If you notice your veins are getting worse or you experience leg aches, it’s a good idea to have them examined by your doctor or Phlebologist.

Varicose veins vs spider veins treatment options

You can sometimes minimise the appearance and discomfort of these conditions without medical intervention. Compression socks, not staying static for long periods (especially standing), getting more exercise, and switching to a healthier diet are all good ways to do so.

But, if you’re experiencing significant discomfort or are just after a more immediate solution, there are a few non-surgical treatment options.

Spider vein treatments:

Several lasers can be used (including NdYag and IPL’s) by your cosmetic physician or dermatologist on the outside of your skin.

Usually, only spider veins and reticular veins can be treated as they are just under the skin’s surface.

The laser selectively targets these small veins and damages them before they are absorbed by the body. Many sessions are usually required with a 6 -12-week interval between them.

Varicose vein treatments:

Feeder vein treatments:

They are largely the same as varicose vein treatments, though in some cases, a practitioner can use Intense Light Pulse Therapy to seal the vein. ILPT works similarly to a transdermal laser as it is a non-invasive way to shrink veins. But unlike laser, the light uses multiple wavelengths of light and is more scattered and less focused. 


In cases where multiple vein types need treatment, your doctor will combine suitable treatments. For example, if your spider veins are attached to varicose veins, you may need endovenous laser ablation for the large veins and sclerotherapy injections for the small ones.

If you think you have any of these conditions or are worried about your general vein health, don’t hesitate to call us at 13 VEINS (13 83467) or request an appointment here. We at The Vein Institute specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of varicose leg veins.