Varicose Veins

How Obesity Increases the Risk of Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are veins that become swollen, twisted and even filled with pain because they are swelling with abnormal amounts of blood in them. (1) Normally, the veins have valves in them that function to move blood to the heart for oxygenation. If you have varicose veins, these valves cease to function properly, which means that some blood will remain in the vein. (2) This pooling of blood most often occurs in the legs, due to the effects of gravity, but they can occur in other parts of the body as well. (3) The main causes of varicose veins are genetic (defective valves in the veins from birth), pregnancy and thrombophlebitis. (4)

Cause and effect?

There is a lot of disagreement as to whether varicose veins are caused or even affected by obesity at all, but most studies show at least some correlation. Older studies claim that obesity “does not carry any excess risk” for varicose veins. (5) More recent research, however, has shown that at least in women, obesity seems to have a direct relationship with varicose veins. This relationship is explained through mechanical load on the lower limbs as well as increased estrogen-release due to excess body-fat. (6) According to this study, women with a very high BMI (30 kg/m2 or greater) show an almost 95% chance of having varicose veins; this after factors for age, estradiol, testosterone and sex hormone binding globulin were eliminated. One of the best conclusions of this article was that it showed how obesity was intricately related to high testosterone levels, which lends weight to the idea that obesity is not just a risk factor, but a disease that has significant cardiovascular implications. (7)

Another article shows that older age, female gender, pregnancy, family history of venous disease, obesity and some occupations are all associated with varicose veins. (8) Some of the factors that might have something to do with varicose veins, but are not well documented, are diet, physical activity and exogenous hormone use. (9)

Men and women

Men don’t seem to have a relationship between their risk for varicose veins and obesity. In fact, most of the studies show that there is no correlation at all – obese men are just as likely to develop varicose veins as non-obese men. The most common observation is that not only is there little correlation between obesity and varicose veins in men, that in fact women are far more likely to have problems with varicose veins than men are as well. There is a 17% prevalence of varicose veins in men and a 31% prevalence in women. (10) The symptoms are different in men and women as well – men are more likely to only itch if they have varicose veins, while women feel heaviness, tension, aching and itching. (11)

Obesity and the complications

Varicose veins may increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis after major abdominal or orthopedic surgery, but this is still not an indication that there is a risk factor for spontaneous deep vein thrombosis. (12)

Obesity is a condition in which there is too much body-fat on the body. Obesity is classed as having a body mass index of 30 or greater, while people who are overweight have a body mass index between 25 and 29. Obesity is characterized by excess amounts of adipose tissue or body-fat, which has a few effects on the body. One of which is the release of hormones and proteins such as cytokines, adipokines and leptin. (13) These substances have several effects on the body, but the risk factor is that the body can become immune to their effects if there is too much in the bloodstream. This is part of the larger condition known as metabolic disorder and can have adverse effects on the metabolism and also on the rate at which the body gains fat. Additionally, people who are obese have a greater risk of developing cardiovascular illnesses, of which varicose veins are just one of the many possibilities. Other cardiovascular illnesses that can come about through obesity are heart attacks, atherosclerosis, angina, stroke and pulmonary embolism.

Another huge risk factor for obese individuals is that they end up carrying too much weight on their body which causes mechanical load issues and gravitational issues. If the lower part of the body is constantly carrying around a weight that is too much for that certain person’s physical body-type, then they are likely to exert extra pressure on the lower part of the body, especially the legs, where varicose veins can form.

Solutions to varicose vein formation

Varicose veins can be prevented early on by altering certain parts of your lifestyle, which have a lot to do with obesity as well. For instance, losing weight, even just a small amount, can significantly improve and even reverse negative health effects of metabolic disorder. You can lower your blood pressure, balance your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, create insulin and leptin more efficiently, all by losing some weight. Additionally, according to a recent article in a New Zealand journal based on medical studies, lifestyle changes especially for people who are working sitting down all day are very important too. (14) For instance, using a high chair to sit for a couple of minutes every hour and then standing the rest of the time in front of your computer can significantly increase blood flow around your body, which helps to develop veins more efficiently and does not allow blood clots to build up. (15) If this is not an option, getting up frequently to get water or coffee is a great idea as well. The reason for this is that human beings have evolved largely to be active organisms on their two feet and in the last 1-200 years our technological advances have motivated us to become more sedentary. Regular exercise doesn’t seem to make a difference, the point is entirely that people who work in front of computers all day are mostly sitting, so altering the furniture in the office could be an important health and safety issue to consider.