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Spider-Bite Symptoms

black-widow-spiderby Elizabeth A. Pector, M.D.

If you get a spider bite, try to catch the culprit for identification. Here are some symptoms to look for.

Symptoms of Widow Spider Bites
Widow spiders, including black widows, are toxic to the nervous system. But fewer than one in 100 victims dies. Widow spiders have reddish or yellowish hourglass markings on their bellies (as seen in the picture to the right).

Symptoms: The bite feels like a mild pinprick, but about an hour later, muscle spasms begin and gradually spread to surrounding muscles. Severe pain and spasm may continue for up to two days. Victims may experience fast breathing or pulse, high blood pressure, fever, headache, sweating, nausea, vomiting and/or anxiety.

Treatment: You can apply ice to the bite, but the victim needs prompt hospital evaluation and treatment for muscle spasms. If you suspect a widow spider bite, the person should be evaluated by a doctor and get prescription medication to relieve symptoms.

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Symptoms of Brown-Recluse Spider Bites
brown-recluse-spiderBrown-recluse (violin) spiders damage blood vessels and cause cell death around the bite. A brown recluse may have a violin-shaped marking that leads from the eyes to the abdomen (as seen in the picture to the right). The spiders have six eyes (instead of eight) arranged in three pairs and have no markings on their undersides.

Symptoms: Initially painless, the bite becomes itchy, red and mildly swollen, with pain beginning two to eight hours later. A blister fills with blood and bursts, leaving an ulcer that forms a black scab over about a week. The scab eventually sloughs off to leave an open wound that heals over several weeks, aided by daily cleansing and dressing changes. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, chills, sweats, fever, and kidney or bleeding problems.

Treatment: First aid includes ice and elevating the bitten limb. A brown-recluse-bite victim should see a doctor to evaluate the wound and monitor its healing, and should be seen in an emergency facility if worrisome vomiting, fever, weakness, bleeding or other serious symptoms develop.

ELIZABETH A. PECTOR, M.D., is a family physician in Naperville, Ill., and owner of Spectrum Family Medicine.

Black-widow spider picture courtesy CDC/Paula Smith. Brown-recluse spider picture courtesy CDC.

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Last updated and/or approved: May 2012.
Original article appeared in summer 2004 former print magazine. Bio current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.

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