Varicose veins are veins which have reduced capability to transport blood back to the heart against gravity. They may be twisted, swollen and enlarged and may cause pain or discomfort. Sometimes they remain unnoticed, sometimes they are visible but not particularly bothersome and sometimes they can cause serious health problems.
Venous insufficiency – a progressive disease
Young or old: Varicose veins really can develop at any age. Studies have even found vein reflux in approx. 10% of schoolchildren aged 11–18, with an increasing incidence as they got older1. Nevertheless, it has been suggested that woman in childbearing years and older people are at greater risk than other age groups. Several studies have shown that the prevalence of varicose veins increases with age2. Venous insufficiency is known to be a progressive disease; thus, more symptoms are likely to establish with advanced age. Research conducted on various types of affected veins related to patient’s age found that certain types of veins were rarely affected in young patients and more commonly affected in patients of older age, thus suggesting that disease may be spared on those veins if early treatment is taking place3.
1Eva Thaler et al; Compression stockings prophylaxis of emergent varicose veins in pregnancy: a prospective randomised controlled study
2JH Abramson et al; The epidemiology of varicose veins. A survey in western Jerusalem.
3Alterbo Cagiatti et al; Age-related variations of varicose veins anatomy, 2006.
Varicose veins – more common in women?
Substantial research has found evidence that varicose veins tend to occur more often in women compared to men. Thus, in one study the prevalence for varicose veins was 29% among women and 10% among men, raising in both groups with increasing age. Interestingly, risk factors also seem to differ between men and women when it comes to venous disease: Whilst women with obesity and higher systolic blood pressure more often developed varicose veins compared to women without those risk factors, these factors seemed of less relevance in men. In men, however, smoking rates appeared as a more relevant risk factor in developing the disease. The only common risk factors identified were standing at work and low levels of physical activity.
Women affected at a younger age?
Research has shown that venous disease is cosmetically affecting half of the population with visible varicose veins more commonly in women (20-25%) than men (10-15%).
With women being at higher risk to develop varicose veins during their childbearing years, it is of little surprise that women are more often affected by the disease than men. With various risk factors which have been shown to increase risk of diseases establishment and progression, the occurrence of multiple causes may be more important than age alone.
Other causes for venous insufficiency
With age being one risk factor for varicose vein development, others causes are known to promote venous insufficiency. These include gender with women being more often affected than men. Since varicose veins are also known to run in families, genetics have been claimed to be another significant risk factor. Additionally, obesity, height and level of physical activity can add to the risk of developing the disease. Thus, people working in jobs which require a decent amount of standing are more prone to developing varicose veins. Lastly, women are commonly developing varicose veins during pregnancies . Therefore, women with multiple pregnancies have been shown to bear a higher risk of developing varicose veins than others4.
4Jari O. Laurikka, Risk indicators for varicose veins in forty- to sixty-year-olds in the tampere varicose vein study, 2002.