Varicose Vein Causes

What Causes Varicose Veins?

August 20, 2023 The Vein Institute

Varicose veins can be a hassle, both in appearance and discomfort. And unfortunately, some people are more likely to develop them than others. From genetics to lifestyle factors, here are the common risk factors and causes of varicose veins.


Genetics are believed to be the primary cause of varicose veins. There is strong evidence that weakness in your veins and valves is inherited. Your unique genetic profile determines the strength of your vein walls, valves and muscle density – all of which provide support to your circulatory system. In addition to being born with weak veins, you can inherit too few valves from one or both of your parents.

Excess Weight

Excess weight is associated with health risks like high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and varicose veins. Having too much weight can strain your veins, increasing the likelihood of certain branches turning varicose. 

However, health practitioners widely debate the subject of what constitutes being overweight or obese. A clinician needs to consider factors like overall weight, height, muscle mass, body fat, gender, ethnicity, and waist circumference.


On that note, diet can also contribute to varicose veins. If you frequently eat foods high in salt or fat or low in fibre or drink too much alcohol, you’ll be more at risk. High salinity results in higher water retention. Meanwhile, fats and alcohol negatively impact circulation. Additionally, low fibre leads to more straining during bowel movements, thus weakening the veins. 

But, while these foods are bad in large quantities, it doesn’t you have to avoid them entirely. It’s best to consume them in moderation and balance them out with food items that can keep them strong and healthy. These include fibre, vitamin E, and Flavonoids (often found in fruits and vegetables).

Medical History

Some injuries can also cause varicose veins for similar reasons to regular wear and tear and strain. That’s because an injury to the vein wall can compromise it, making it weaker and more susceptible to turning varicose.

And if you’re predisposed to forming blood clots, this also puts you at risk as clots can partially block blood flow and affect circulation.

Sex and Gender

It’s believed that varicose veins primarily affect women and people with an oestrogen-based endocrine system. Fluctuations of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone during pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause can make veins constrict, expand, and loosen, which may weaken them over time.

Pregnancy carries additional risks, as your uterus expands and your blood volume doubles to supply your baby with oxygen. This additional pressure and blood flow puts a pretty significant strain on your veins.

However, men can also get varicose veins. It’s not unusual to develop varicose veins in the scrotum during puberty, as it is also a time of hormone fluctuations – not to mention rapid growth. Men may also get varicose veins in the legs for similar reasons that women do; genetics, lifestyle, age, and profession may all contribute.

Some researchers and health practitioners also dispute the claim that varicose veins are twice as common in women – there is some evidence that women are more likely to seek treatment, leading to more cases among women being reported.

Professions requiring a lot of sitting or standing

image of man presenting at a business meeting to help visualise the impact of profession on the likelihood of developing varicose veins

Man presenting at a business meeting in front of a whiteboard

Sedentary jobs where you’re required to sit or stand for long hours can also put you at risk of developing varicose veins. When you stand, the gravitational pull makes it hard for the blood to circulate back to the heart, straining the vein wall. And when you sit, your muscles stagnate, weakening your circulation. 

Unfortunately, today’s working world is ill-equipped for varicose vein prevention, with many retail jobs requiring 8+ hours of standing and office and transport jobs the same with sitting. Even more active warehouse workers aren’t exempt, as heavy lifting increases pressure on the abdominal muscles, making it harder for blood to travel back from the legs to the heart. 

So, while we can’t exactly ask you to switch careers, we do recommend that standers and sitters take every opportunity to take a break and walk around a little or even do some sitting exercises to boost blood flow. And for heavy lifters, get some compression stockings, abide by good lifting practices, and maybe invest in a lumbar belt. 

Low Activity Levels

Staying active is a good way to keep veins healthy. First, it helps you maintain circulation. And second, it keeps your muscles toned and strong, which ensures there’s less space available for veins to expand and become varicose.

The good news is; you don’t need to become a gym junkie. Something as simple as yoga, swimming, or walking for 30 minutes a day can keep your veins happy and healthy. 

What else can cause varicose veins?

  • There is research showing that vaping can damage vein health, but there’s currently no evidence that vaping causes varicose veins.
  • There is also no evidence crossing your legs will lead to varicose veins.
  • Height is a bit more murky. You may think that being taller causes varicose veins because the blood has a longer distance to travel, but in fact, the genes that make people taller are also the ones that increase the risk of varicose veins. So, if you are above 175cm (for men) or (162cm for women), it’s a good idea to monitor your vein health.

Learn more: 7 Common Myths About Varicose Vein Causes

So, how likely are you to develop varicose veins?

It’s important to remember that the primary cause of varicose veins is genetics. Factors like excess weight, age, pregnancy, and unhealthy lifestyle will typically just add to the risk. But while it’s not strictly possible to eliminate your chances of getting varicose veins, taking healthy steps like becoming more active and taking breaks between long hours of sitting will minimise the risk.

Seek specialist advice

If you do end up developing varicose veins, don’t worry. In most cases, you won’t need vascular surgery. Modern technologies allow us to perform safe, effective, and minimally invasive varicose vein treatments. Book a consultation with one of our specialists by calling 13 VEINS (that’s 13 83467).