Over 33 % of American adult population are currently considered obese – they have a BMI of 30 and higher and excessive unhealthy amount of body fat. On top of it, over 1/5 of American children and adolescents face the same problem. Obesity has tons of negative effects on human health – diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, certain forms of cancers, I could go on and on. With more and more sitting and driving instead of walking and running, obesity has also had a shattering effect on leg veins – specifically varicose veins.
Healthy legs need properly functioning vein valves because they allow blood to flow from the legs toward the heart against gravity, preventing venous reflux (reverse flow). If the valves are damaged or the vein wall is too weak, the blood pools in the legs which results in chronic venous insufficiency, the formation of varicose veins and their enlargement. Estimates say that over 25 million Americans have varicose veins which makes it one of the most common chronic conditions in North America. In fact, more people lose their jobs as a result of chronic vein disorders than serious artery diseases!
Usually, varicose veins will not make you a beauty pageant contestant, but they also don’t pose a major health risk. If untreated though, they might get worse over time and cause swelling, aching, cramps, feeling of heaviness and restlessness in legs, and many other bothersome symptoms. In some cases, they can also develop into more serious conditions, such as leg ulcers – very painful and definitely not a pretty picture.
Varicose vein formation depends on various factors, including genetics, age, being female, multiple pregnancies, prolonged standing or sitting, etc., but obesity is a huge contributing factor. More importantly, varicose veins are much harder to diagnose with obese and overweight people. Obese people usually already suffer from many symptoms related to varicose veins, such as discomfort and heaviness of the legs. Since the bulging veins and discoloration are hidden under the excess fat, they don’t often realize they have varicose veins and don’t seek treatment. Over time, the damage to the skin on the lower leg can become irreversible and thus obese people are more prone to leg ulceration than any other individual with regular weight. As most advanced exams and treatments of varicose veins are non-invasive, it is also more difficult for a doctor to assess the actual state of varicose veins because of the excessive amount of fat on the legs. Obese patients are also not physically fit enough to undergo a full surgery to remove varicose veins, and at that point, the person is running out of options. Excess weight not only helps varicose veins to develop, but it also makes them harder to diagnose, monitor and treat. This problematic situation with very limited number of solutions should be yet another reason to aim for an optimal weight and stay as healthy as possible.