Why women are at a higher risk of varicose veins

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You may already know that women develop varicose veins more than men. The statistics are around 55% of women will develop varicose veins versus 45% of men. That number seems quite high and you may be wondering why you do not see it as often. The reason for this is that out of those 55% of women affected, only 20% to 25% will show visible varicose veins that are obvious. The rest will be hidden varicose veins that have not shown themselves yet. In men, that number drops from 45% to 10% to 15% that are visible. Already you can see a discrepancy between women and men.

The commonest culprits that increase risk regardless of gender include increasing age, family history, obesity and inactivity. Women however, have increased risk as a result hormonal changes during 3 phases in their lives. This includes menarche, pregnancy and menopause. Progesterone acts as a vasodilator and causes the veins to expand and get bigger. When the vein gets bigger, this can damage the valves due to excessive stretching. This is the same reason, symptoms can be worse during a woman’s menstruation cycle.

During the next phase, which is pregnancy, here again hormones play a big role. Both oestrogen and progesterone are responsible for stretching of the vein, but the pressure from the growing uterus is also another factor. The first trimester is usually where the worst damage occurs. As the pregnancy continues and with increased blood volumes, this further worsens the condition of the veins. In the final trimester, the growing uterus places pressure on larger vessels in the abdomen causing the lower limb veins to stretch even more. It is for this reason, if a patient has a challenging pregnancy with varicose veins, we often treat them after delivery (3 months later) or before their next pregnancy.

Finally menopause can predispose to varicose veins partly due to increasing age and reduction of collagen in the veins to keep them stiff. This allows them to stretch even more and become quite visible. Despite hormones reducing during this phase, they do still play a role in causing varicose veins.
As you can see women are affected in 3 different phases of their lives on top of the normal risk. Unfortunately varicose veins cannot be prevented, but treating them early has its advantages. Less treatment is often needed and with the newer treatments recurrence rates are very low depending on the treatment modality compared to older surgery techniques.

If you know anyone who is currently suffering from varicose veins and has been putting off treatment for a while, please share this with them. Don’t forget to follow us on YouTube, where I put up videos regarding varicose veins and treatments by clicking on the buttons at the bottom of the page.

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