July 14, 2021
The 2019 Health Survey for England estimated that 28% of British adults are categorised as obese, with an additional 36.2% considered to be overweight. The same survey found that Britons aged 45-74 were more likely to fall into either of these categories.
Up to 20 million people in the UK will have varicose veins at some point in their lives. This includes large and inflamed ‘trunk’ veins, smaller ‘reticular’ veins, and thread or spider veins. Symptoms tend to become more serious with age.
Risk factors include age, gender (as women are more commonly affected than men), family history and number of pregnancies. Importantly, obesity also plays a significant role.
But does extra weight make it more difficult to diagnose and treat varicose veins, and can adopting a new lifestyle help? Read on to find out more about these often-misunderstood questions.
Strong valves in the leg veins are crucial as they prevent blood from flowing backwards and pooling in the legs, and obesity causes increased pressure on both leg veins and their valves.
For the blood in leg veins to overcome this increase in pressure and send the blood back to the heart against gravity, it must have enough pressure to force the veins open. This can cause valves to weaken and break. The resulting pressure on the valves causes the vein branches to expand, leading to varicose veins and potentially more serious issues such as leg ulcers.
Excess weight can also slow down the exchange of blood flow between deeper and more superficial veins, which can also lead to varicose veins.
Diagnosing varicose veins is made more complicated in overweight patients, and even more so when the patient is classified as morbidly obese. This is because medical imaging tends to show fewer abnormalities when there is extra weight hiding any unhealthy veins underneath.
If you are overweight, you may have varicose veins that aren’t visible below the surface of your skin. This can be dangerous as more serious forms of vein disease can develop that are often more difficult to treat. This is why early detection and treatment is the best course of action.
In addition, being overweight can make treatment more difficult and can even limit the procedural methods as excess fat is likely to make accessing the affected veins harder to reach and therefore treat.
A combination of diet and exercise is key to losing weight. People who are obese also tend to exercise less, which reduces circulation and leads to blood pooling in the veins. A sedentary lifestyle will increase your chances of developing varicose veins.
The good news, however, is that it doesn’t take a huge amount to make a difference; even short but regular walks can significantly improve your vein (and overall) health.
This is why it is important to find what type of exercise you enjoy and that you can fit into your daily or weekly routine. If you already know you have varicose veins, opting for low-impact activities like walking, cycling or swimming can help manage symptoms and prevent things from getting worse.
You should also make improvements in your diet and have healthier meals. It’s important to maintain balance in your meals, ensuring there is enough protein, fibre, minerals, vitamins and water
If you’re overweight or obese, losing weight can help alleviate varicose vein symptoms like aching, swelling, and associated conditions such as restless legs syndrome. While weight loss will not make existing varicose veins go away, it can help prevent more from developing by reducing pressure on veins.
As well as these new habits, it’s important to see a specialist, especially if you start to notice symptoms like leg swelling, pain or discomfort, restless legs or skin discolouration; even if there are no visible varicose veins.
And whether or not you have excess fat, if you have varicose veins, it’s always best to seek medical advice as early as possible, so you can have them treated before they get worse.
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