General myths

Having discussed some of the things that have been incorrectly blamed to be the causes of varicose veins, we can now turn our attention more generally to other myths about varicose veins. The first of these is actually true. However it is included it here because it is so often included with all the incorrect myths about varicose veins:

Q1 “Varicose veins run in families”


This is the one “myth” about varicose veins that is based on truth. Varicose veins do indeed run in families and this appears to be related to the genetic susceptibility for the valves within the veins to fail and to allow blood to reflux down the veins the wrong way.There was some excellent work by Prof CV Ruckley in Scotland over many years that mapped how varicose veins and venous disease did run in families. However, unlike genetic traits such as hair colour, eye colour or blood group which follow simple genetics, the inheritance or otherwise of varicose veins or “hidden varicose veins” (venous reflux disease or venous incompetence) is more complicated.

Therefore in certain families, a great many of the members will have varicose veins or “hidden varicose veins”, but not everyone will. Similarly, in other families, most people may not have the problem but one or two members will end up suffering from varicose veins or “hidden varicose veins”. Therefore the fact that varicose veins do run in families cannot be due to simple genetics.

Moreover, if there was a simple genetic cause of varicose veins then when somebody got varicose veins, it should affect all of their veins in both of their legs and all of their veins will have the same genetic make-up. Instead, we quite frequently see varicose veins only in one leg or in just one of the veins of the leg, with other veins in the same leg not being affected.

For these reasons, we can be sure that there is a familial link and that varicose veins to run in families, but it is not by simple genetics and cannot be predicted as to which individual will or will not get varicose veins or “hidden varicose veins“.

Q2 “Women get varicose veins more often than men”

It seems to be a very commonly held misconception that women get varicose veins more than men and there are two main reasons for this.
The first is that it is generally thought that pregnancy causes varicose veins and therefore women, as it is women who get pregnant, are going to get varicose veins more often than men.
The second is that any doctor who deals with varicose veins will know that more women come for varicose vein treatment than men.
Dealing with these points in turn, firstly as we have already seen on the previous page, pregnancy does not cause varicose veins. In addition, if we thought it might, we could look at the incidence of when women have surgery for their varicose veins. We would expect it to be clumped around the childbearing years. However this is not the case and we find that women attend for varicose vein treatments throughout their lives, with increasing frequency with age. As with every medical condition related to how long we have been on the planet, varicose veins and “hidden varicose veins” get more common the older we get.
It is not surprising that more women turn up to doctors for treatment of varicose veins more often than men as it is well-known that women are more health-conscious than men. If we look at diseases such as bowel cancer that has an equal distribution between men and women, we find that women tend to turn up for diagnosis and treatment earlier than men and, as such, get better results in terms of survival.
Finally, in the 1990’s, a research study was performed in Scotland on people in the street rather than people who had come to the doctors seeking treatment. When a population is examined for varicose veins or “hidden varicose veins” without them having to refer themselves, it is found that there is virtually equal distribution of varicose veins and “hidden varicose veins” between men and women.
Therefore we now know that women do not get varicose veins more than men – but they do seek investigation and treatment more often than men do.
This website was last updated on 11/10/16.