Varicose Vein Risk Factors

Primary Varicose Vein Risk Factors

The three most significant Varicose Vein Risk Factors are Family History, Gender and Age.

Family History

Genetics is the biggest risk factor for varicose veins. While a person whose parents are both free of varicose veins still has a 20% risk of developing them, having a family history of varicose veins significantly increases the odds you’ll get them. If one parent has them, that risk of having varicose veins can be as high as 64%. If both parents have varicose veins, there is a 90% chance their children will get them as well. (Cornu-Thenard, A., et al. Importance of the familial factor in varicose disease, J Dermatol Surg Oncol. 1994. 20:318)


Venous disease is common in both men and women. It is estimated that 20% of men and 40% of women will develop venous disease in their lifetime. Factors that contribute to the increased frequency in women are hormonal fluctuations (especially progesterone) and pregnancy. Although varicose veins are twice as common in women, more advanced chronic venous disease is seen more often in men. (Criqui MH, Jamosmos M, Fronek A, Denenberg JO, Langer RD, Bergan J, et al., Chronic venous disease in an ethnically diverse population: The San Diego Population Study, Am J Epidemiol. 2003. 158:448-456.) Certain symptoms and complications differ by gender as well. Swelling (edema) of the legs related to venous disease is more common in men. Superficial Thrombophlebitis  is more common in women.


The incidence of varicose veins increases with increasing age. People in their 70s are twice as likely to have venous disease as those in their 40s. The risk of varicose veins and spider veins increases linearly with age, while the risk of chronic venous insufficiency and ulcers increases exponentially with age. (Adhikari A, Criqui MH, Wooll V, Denenberg JO, Fronek A, Langer RD, et al. The epidemiology of chronic venous diseases, Phlebology 2000. 15: 2-18.)

Other Possible Risk Factors

There are many theories about other possible causes of varicose veins, but these are not as well-supported by scientific evidence. (Bergan, JJ, Risk Factors, Manifestations, and Clinical Examination of the Patient with Primary Venous Insufficiency, The Vein Book, 120.)

Abdominal straining

Activities such as heavy lifting, coughing, and straining to have a bowel movement all increase the pressure on leg veins.


High fiber, low fat diets decrease pressure in the colon and the pressure needed to evacuate the colon and may decrease the risk of venous disease. Venous disease is more prevalent in Western cultures than in cultures which have predominantly fiber-based diets, but many other factors may play into that discrepancy beside diet.

Leg Crossing

This position theoretically decreases the efficiency of blood flow through leg veins by compressing them, but has never been scientifically demonstrated to increase the risk of developing varicose veins or spider veins.


Many, but not all studies have shown an increased risk of varicose veins in people who are obese. When age is taken into account in these studies, the link between weight and risk of varicose veins appears even weaker. While there are many good reasons to try to maintain a healthy weight, it does not guarantee healthy veins. Furthermore, once venous disease is present, weight loss is unlikely to relieve symptoms.

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