What Are Varicose Veins

A bulging section of blue, twisted vein on the back of a person’s calf or thigh is a common sight 10–15% of men and 20–25% of women have visible veins. A varicose vein is actually a vein that has lost its elasticity. Its wall has become flabby, so that it easily becomes swollen with blood.

Who Gets Varicose Veins

  • Varicose veins affect both men and women.
  • You can get varicose veins at any age (even as a teenager), but they are more likely as you get older. They tend to run in families.
    • Varicose veins may first occur during pregnancy because of hormonal changes that relax the wall of the vein and because of pressure in the veins from the expanding uterus (womb). After the baby is born, there will be a general improvement in the veins, but they often become worse again in later pregnancies.
  • The contraceptive pill makes varicose veins more likely.
  • Obesity and repeated abdominal strain (for example, from heavy lifting) may contribute.
  • A study in Denmark confirmed what is often suspected if your job involves standing or walking for long periods, you are more likely to develop varicose veins (Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2005;62:847–850). Long periods of sitting with the legs bent and crossed probably makes varicose veins worse.
  • Sometimes varicose veins occur after a serious thrombosis (blood clot) in the deep veins because this may damage the valves at the main junctions.
  • It has been suggested that a diet low in fibre increases the likelihood of varicose veins (because if we are constipated we have to strain to open our bowels, which puts pressure on the veins), but this is unproven.

Fascinating Facts

  • Varicose simply means swollen
  • Varicose veins are the price we pay for our upright posture; if we still walked on all fours, we probably wouldn’t have them
  • One person in five has varicose veins or is likely to get them
  • Varicose veins usually develop slowly over 10–20 years
  • Recent research has found that varicose veins are more common in men than in women
  • 60,000 people in England have hospital treatment for varicose veins every year.


First published on: embarrassingproblems.com
Reviewed and edited by: Fiona Elliott
Last updated: January 2021

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