Varicose Veins Throughout History

Written By Center for Vein Restoration
History Leg Veins

How society perceives visibly swollen blood vessels in the legs has influenced how varicose veins have been viewed and treated throughout history.

Varicose veins are a common medical condition affecting up to 3 in 10 adults. According to the NIH National Library of Medicine, an estimated 20 percent of all adults will get varicose veins at some point in their lives.

These twisted and swollen veins, often appearing on the legs, are not a new disorder and have been an issue for people throughout history—mainly because it is an inherited genetic disease. Other risk factors for vein disease afflicting modern people also plagued ancient peoples, such as aging, standing or sitting for long periods, and hormonal changes, including pregnancy.

However, the perception of varicose veins has drastically changed over time due to shifting cultural and societal attitudes and medical understanding.

Varicose veins throughout history

In ancient times, varicose veins were considered a sign of wealth and status. Because prolonged periods of time without walking is a risk factor for developing vein disease, varicose veins were often associated with upper-class individuals such as rulers or wealthy merchants who were afforded a sedentary lifestyle. Because society believed these individuals were too important to engage in physical activity, the swollen and discolored legs of the elite class were considered a mark of privilege and were even regarded as fashionable.

The Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about varicose veins in his medical texts, noting that varicose veins were more frequent in Scythians (an ancient nomadic people from the 7th to 3rd century BC) due to prolonged time spent on horseback with their legs hanging down. Roman soldiers were said to have considered varicose veins a badge of honor after long marches, wrapping their legs in leather bindings to treat leg fatigue.

As society changes, so does its attitude about varicose veins

Centuries passed, and varicose veins were no longer seen as a mark of status but rather as a sign of aging and physical decline. This shift in attitude was partly due to the rise of industrialization and the increase in manual labor. As laborers stood for long periods engaged in factory work, they were more likely to develop varicose veins, making visibly bulging leg veins less desirable in “polite society.”

Women and varicose veins

During the 16th and 17th centuries, as the culture focused more on appearance and physical beauty, bare legs became fashionable for women. Varicose veins were seen as unsightly and embarrassing, with some even believing that varicose veins were a sign of loose morals. Women suffering from vein disease at this time in history, through no fault of their own, were often shamed and ostracized.

This cultural shift led to the development of treatments for varicose veins that were focused on hiding or removing them. These primitive treatments of varices were often painful and carried a high risk of infection. Still, many women were willing to endure grueling procedures to avoid the stigma associated with varicose veins. Women began to wear stockings and garters to cover their veins, and surgical procedures were developed to remove them entirely.

Modern procedures help those with varicose veins

As medicine developed in the 20th century, new treatments for varicose veins were created that were less invasive and carried fewer risks. Unfortunately, even as the medical community began to view varicose veins as a medical condition requiring treatment, the cultural attitudes towards them persisted. Women continued to feel ashamed and embarrassed by their veins, and many chose to hide them rather than seek treatment.

The attitude toward varicose veins has changed for the better

A shift in societal attitudes has led to new approaches to treating varicose veins. Rather than focusing solely on cosmetic concerns, modern vein practices are just as likely to focus on the medical implications of varicose veins, such as leg pain, swelling, skin changes, and blood clots. Thankfully, today’s minimally invasive treatment for varicose veins is now understood as medically necessary and covered by most insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid.

The leaders in vein care

Since 2007, Center for Vein Restoration (CVR) has continuously redefined the care of patients with venous disorders, helping hundreds of thousands live full, comfortable lives free of leg pain. CVR’s personalized, state-of-the-art, office-based vein treatment immediately gets patients back to their routine with few restrictions—something unimaginable just a few decades ago.

CVR’s vein care begins with a duplex ultrasound that maps your leg veins (something your grandparents could only dream of!), followed by a thorough examination and the development of a treatment plan customized for you by our board-certified physicians.

Schedule an appointment today by calling 240-965-3915 or schedule ONLINE.

Your ancestors would be envious.

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