Can obesity and overweight result in the outbreak of varicose veins?

Varicose veins are blood vessels which have lost their ability to transport blood back to the heart. The medical term for this condition is chronic venous disease. Varicose veins may be of simple cosmetic concern but may also cause serious health problems if they no longer fulfill their primary function.

Is obesity causing varicose veins?

The causes of chronic venous disease and the formation and progression of varicose veins are multifactorial. However, several causes have been repeatedly recognized as significant risk factors for the disease. These risk factors include gender, age, number of pregnancies, family history as well as overweight and obesity.
Studies were able to show that, especially in woman, obesity and an insufficient levels of physical activity were more common in patients who had developed varicose veins than in woman with no signs of venous insufficiency1. Moreover, research was able to show that venous disease tended to be more clinically severe in obese or overweight individuals compared to those with lower weight2.

1J Krysa et al, Evidence for a genetic role in varicose veins
and chronic venous insufficiency, 2012.

2A.M.van Rij et al, Obesity and Impaired Venous Function, 2008.

Is obesity just a varicose vein risk factor for women?

There is evidence showing a strong connection between obesity and venous disease in women compared to men. One study clearly showed that an increase in BMI (body mass index) was significantly linked with a higher risk for varicose veins in postmenopausal woman3.

3Arcangelo Iannuzzi et al, Varicose veins of the lower limbs and venous capacitance in postmenopausal women: Relationship with obesity, 2002.

How can obesity cause varicose veins?

Overweight generally results in higher pressure in the abdomen. This pressure subsequently may increase pressure on the leg veins. The increased venous pressure then promotes the formation and progression of chronic venous disease4. Another impact of increased weight on vein health lays in the blood flow exchange between deep veins and the superficial vein system in the legs. It has been suggested that fatty and fibrous tissue surrounding the veins may disturb venous circulation and favor stasis (slow blood flow in the veins) which subsequently can lead to the formation of varicose veins5.

4A.M.van Rij et al, Obesity and Impaired Venous Function, 2008.
5Arcangelo Iannuzzi et al, Varicose veins of the lower limbs and venous capacitance in postmenopausal women: Relationship with obesity, 2002.

Echotherapy for varicose veins

Hidden varicose veins due to obesity?

Another problem which arises with obesity, is the difficulty in diagnosing and recognizing varicose veins at an early stage. Whilst the twisted and swollen veins are easily visible in patients with regular weight, obese patients often do not show visible signs of varicose veins. This can lead to patients visiting a physician much later than average weight patients, putting obese patients at a greater risk of further complications and leg ulceration.
Additionally, overweight also causes difficulties in assessing and treating varicose veins accurately. Diagnosis is usually performed by a duplex ultrasound scan which allows the physician to non-invasively see the veins under the skin. With veins usually laying deeper in the tissue in obese patients the visibility can be impaired, and diagnosis becomes less accurate which may also complicate efficient treatment6.

6Eddie Chalone, Obesity and Varicose Veins – the Hidden Problem, 2014.

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