Is Height a Risk Factor for Varicose Veins or Spider Veins?
While studies show that being tall can increase your risk of varicose veins, height alone is not the long and the short of vein disease.
Several risk factors for varicose veins and spider veins have been positively identified, including heredity, advanced age, being female, being overweight, standing or sitting for long periods, and having a sedentary lifestyle. There is, however, an ongoing debate about whether height is also associated with an increased risk of developing vein disease.
First, let's explore these two common symptoms of vein disease: varicose veins and spider veins.
What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are characterized by swollen, twisted veins that often appear on the legs and can cause discomfort and cosmetic concerns. According to the AHA Journal "Circulation," approximately 23% of US adults have varicose veins, affecting 22 million women and 11 million men between the ages of 40 to 80 years.
Varicose veins cause tired, achy, throbbing legs, leg discomfort, swelling, itching, heaviness, and skin changes. Untreated varicose veins can lead to health problems, including sores that don't heal (ulcers), unexpected bleeding/vein rupture, and deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
The role of height in developing varicose veins
Several studies have explored the relationship between height and vein disease. In the largest genetic study ever completed on varicose veins, Stamford Medicine found evidence that being tall is a risk factor for varicose veins. In the study, researchers examined the genes of more than 400,000 people and identified 30 genes linked to varicose vein disorder (as well as a strong genetic correlation with deep vein thrombosis).
Saying that the correlation they found between height and the condition was unexpected, Nicholas Leeper, MD, an associate professor of surgery and cardiovascular medicine at Stanford, concluded, "Genes that predict a person's height may be at the root of this link between height and varicose veins and may provide clues for treating the condition."
In a large community-based study conducted in the UK and published in the AHA Journal Circulation, researchers concluded:
"The study substantially extends our understanding of the genetic and environmental bases of varicose veins. We demonstrate that greater height is associated with greater susceptibility to varicose vein disease. Several risk factors with importance for predicting disease risk were identified, including previously debated (hormone replacement therapy, length of education) and other novel (leg bioimpedance, history of cellulitis, surgery on leg arteries) predictors. Our discovery of genetic determinants of disease also sets a path for identification of new targets in the effort to develop therapy for varicose veins."
What are spider veins?
While both types of veins are uncomfortable and negatively affect one's appearance, spider veins are smaller and tend to be closer to the skin's surface. Often found on the face or legs, spider veins are called "hidden varicose veins" due to underlying venous reflux, that is, backward blood flow.
The role of height in developing spider veins
While evidence suggests that taller people may be at higher risk for varicose veins, less evidence supports the idea that height is a risk factor for spider veins. More common factors in developing spider veins include smoking, exposure to heat (hot tubs, baths, saunas), and wearing tight clothing.
Consider these risk factors first!
While height may be an indirect risk factor for varicose veins, it is important to consider the other scientifically established risk factors for developing varicose veins. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding prolonged periods of sitting or standing, remains key to reducing the risk of varicose veins, regardless of height. Other significant factors are out of one's control, including genetics, age, and gender.
Get problem veins evaluated by a vein specialist
If you're experiencing signs of vein problems, it's important to consult a qualified vein doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. Symptoms include bulging painful veins, skin discoloration, leg swelling, itching, cramping, or a sensation of heaviness.
Center for Vein Restoration's board-certified vein physicians are experts in getting to the bottom of your leg discomfort. CVR has more than 70 vein center locations nationwide and accepts insurance for vein care, including Medicare and Medicaid.
Book your appointment ONLINE today and get free compression stockings (restrictions apply).