Varicose veins are one of the most common conditions in the legs. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 20 to 25 million Americans suffer from varicose veins. Of those suffering from this condition, 33% are women, and 17% are men. For most people, varicose veins are just about esthetics, but they can also cause pain or discomfort.
Varicose veins are usually caused by weak or damaged valves. These valves help the blood travel from your legs back to your heart. If they are weak or damaged, the blood might pool in the veins causing them to twist or stretch. There are several risk factors such as gender, age, or lifestyle. Women are more predisposed due to factors such as fluctuating hormone levels, or clothing.
The treatments are usually natural and include changes in diet and lifestyle, compression stockings. Over the counter medication such as ibuprofen or aspirin can be used for pain management.
When natural remedies don’t work anymore, options include laser treatments during which laser is directed at the varicose veins helping them gradually disappear. Sclerotherapy and ablation with catheter assisted methods are options when the varicose veins are too large for laser. Finally, surgical removal is the last resort in the more severe cases.
Read more to learn what are the main reasons why varicose veins are more common in women and how you can reduce your risk of getting them.
5 Reasons Why Varicose Veins Are Common In Females
1. Higher progesterone levels than men
Research shows that one of the reasons why women are more predisposed to varicose veins than men is progesterone, a hormone that both genders have, but that is a lot higher in women. Studies further suggest that women who have varicose veins have higher progesterone levels.
Progesterone is a hormone with many great functions in a woman’s body. It is made primarily after ovulation and it is crucial for a healthy pregnancy, as well as for the overall health of a woman’s reproductive system.
Progesterone also contributes to the relaxation of blood vessel walls. Studies show that when these walls are relaxed, the tiny blood vessels inside the valves also relax. In time, this can contribute to the weakening of the valves, thus the formation of varicose veins.
2. Regular use of contraceptives
Hormonal birth control is known to increase the risk of both varicose veins and blood clots. Pills are considered to carry the highest risk, but issues can arise other hormonal contraceptives such as the patch or the ring. While the risk is considered fairly small, it cannot be ignored.
The risks are bigger with the combined birth control pill, which contains both synthetic estrogen and progestin. They inhibit ovulation giving you a constant dose of synthetic hormones, that mimic the estrogen and progesterone your body normally makes. It can be said they have a similar effect to pregnancy on the body. However, pregnancy is a natural state that lasts for a limited period of time, whereas women often take birth control pills for many years, which can increase the risk of side effects.
The combination of estrogen and progestin may also not be ideal for some women. Research shows that high estrogen levels contribute to varicose veins in both men and women. (1)
3. Common during pregnancy
Pregnancy comes with natural changes in hormonal levels and weight which can also put some strain on the body. For instance, the level of progesterone increases and stays high throughout pregnancy. This is necessary, but as we saw earlier, progesterone relaxes the blood vessels, which can in turn weaken the valves and cause varicose veins. Also, during pregnancy, the blood flow increases, which puts further pressure on the veins and the valves.
Pregnancy also comes with body strains, especially in the pelvic area, which can damage veins. There’s also a fairly steady weight gain, that can in turn put more pressure on the legs and subsequently the veins and the valves.
Varicose veins tend to get worse with each pregnancy, so if this issue started already with your first pregnancy, for instance, you can be fairly certain it will get worse with your next one.
The good news is, varicose veins developed during pregnancy usually fade on their own sooner or later. Successive pregnancies, however, make this process more difficult, and you might notice some that won’t fade at all.
4. Menopause and aging
The risk of varicose veins increases with age for both men and women. Women, however, also deal with menopause, which comes with a lot of hormonal shifts.
The process starts with perimenopause when your cycle becomes more irregular and the changes in hormones are more abrupt. Many women find themselves going through periods with very high estrogen, only to have it go back to normal a few months later. The same is valid for progesterone. Ovulation may happen more rarely and levels of progesterone afterward are less stable. These hormonal changes, though natural, can increase the risk of developing varicose veins.
The decrease of all hormones in menopause is once again a risk. At this point, there’s a chance some valves have thickened and the changes that occur due to the decrease in hormones could worsen the condition.
5. Choice of shoes and clothing
Women wear high heels and stockings, which can reduce blood flow in the legs.
Finally, high heels and stockings increase the risk of varicose veins in women. That’s because they reduce the blood flow in the legs, making it harder for the valves to work. While you may not always want to choose other clothing options, it is good to switch to shoes that allow your feet to be in a more natural position whenever possible. And if you find you were heels and stockings a lot, using compression stockings when possible can also decrease the effects of your clothing.
Reduce Your Risk Of Getting Varicose Veins
While you can’t completely prevent varicose veins, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of developing them.
Start by creating a healthy lifestyle for yourself. Make sure you move daily. It doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise, light movement is enough to get your blood flowing.
Also, make sure you don’t stay too long in one position. If you have a sedentary job, take breaks as often as possible, get up from your desk and move a little. If on the contrary, you’re standing all day, take breaks to sit down whenever you can.
A healthy diet, low in salt, will also help, as will maintaining a healthy weight.
Elevating your legs above your heart level will also improve blood circulation and will reduce the risk of varicose veins. Ideally, you want to aim for 30 minutes, 4 times a day, but if that’s not possible, just do it for 10-30 minutes before going to bed for instance. This is a great thing to do during pregnancy as well. You can’t prevent hormonal shifts and some weight gain is natural even if you eat healthily, but elevating your legs will help improve circulation in your legs.
Compression stockings are also a great solution. They can both reduce the risk of varicose veins but also provide relief in case you already have them. You can wear them the entire day as long as you remember to take them off before bed.
Finally, if you’re worried, or if you have symptoms that are impacting the quality of your life, such as pain, swelling, or heavy legs, consult a vein specialist. For instance, VISP – Vascular & Interventional Specialists of Prescott can help with rapid diagnosis and treatment options in a safe, compassionate way.