More than half of women will develop varicose veins during their lifetimes. So what makes women more prone to varicose veins than men?
The American College of Phlebology estimates that 55% of American women will suffer from varicose veins during their lifetimes. This estimate means that, compared to men, women are at four times greater risk of developing the knotted, sometimes-painful, bulging leg veins.
Though there are many varicose vein risk factors, including age, excess weight, and family history, that affect both genders equally, women appear highly predisposed to varicose veins. The question is: why? The answer lies in a number of factors, but we can primarily point the finger at a hormone that affects the large veins in the body.
Why Women Develop Varicose Veins
Our circulatory system, which carries blood throughout our bodies, is made up of arteries and veins. Arteries are responsible for pushing red blood packed with oxygen and nutrients from the heart to our muscles and organs. Meanwhile, the deep veins in the legs are tasked with moving that blood back to the heart.
Valves in those veins help the blood flow upward to the heart. When those valves malfunction for any reason, blood cannot return to the chest; instead, the blood pools. As the blood collects in the vein, the vein grows and extends, becoming the rope-like strings that are characteristic of varicose veins.
Here’s why women are at especially high risk of developing varicose veins:
Progesterone. Women have high levels of progesterone, a hormone that regulates menstrual cycles and physical development. This same hormone also relaxes the vein walls and the valves, which can unfortunately set the stage for the development of varicose veins. Weaker vein valves have a harder time pushing the blood back to the heart.
Pregnancy. During pregnancy, a woman’s progesterone levels increase significantly. Along with that, the volume of blood circulating in the body swells, and an enlarged abdomen exerts more pressure on the legs. These factors can all lead to the formation of varicose veins. Luckily, within three months of giving birth, varicose veins usually disappear. However, each successive pregnancy tends to inflate the veins even more, so varicose veins are more likely to arise after multiple deliveries.
How Women Can Prevent Varicose Veins
Women can’t do anything to stop their natural hormones from developing in their bodies. They can, however, take some precautions to lessen the risk of varicose veins.
Stay Active. Walking, swimming, and cycling all tone the leg muscles, which, in turn, promotes proper blood flow. If you work at a job where you sit or stand for long periods, be sure to get up from your desk frequently, or sit down to rest your legs so the blood doesn’t pool in the veins.
Wear Compression Stockings. Made of strong elastic, compression stockings accelerate blood flow to the chest by squeezing the leg veins. These specialty stockings can be purchased in a drugstore or at a medical supply outlet. For higher-grade elastic, you’ll need a doctor’s prescription.
Elevate Your Legs. To nudge the blood upward, elevate your legs above your heart. Do this several times a day for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
Maintain Your Proper Weight. Excess pounds put more pressure on the leg veins. Therefore, losing weight and maintaining a proper weight eases the strain on the valves and prevents the blood from clustering in the vein.
If your varicose veins become painful, itchy, or ulcerated, it’s time to consult with a vein specialists about your treatment options. The specialists at the Center for Vein Restoration can perform minimally invasive procedures that close off the damaged veins and restore the healthy appearance of your legs. Contact us today for an appointment.