Can varicose veins lead to heart disease?


The appearance of thick, twisty varicose veins can be a bit scary. It is normal to wonder if the protruding veins are a sign of a potential cardiac concern.

How do varicose veins affect the heart and cardiovascular system? Can varicose veins cause heart problems?

While the presence of varicose veins indicates a problem with moving blood back to the heart for oxygenation, generally a diagnosis of varicose veins does not put you at a higher risk for cardiac issues. Heart disease and poor circulation are related to the arterial system while the venous system is linked to varicose veins.

However, in some cases, the venous system can be affected by a cardiac issue. For instance, a patient with heart disease and varicose veins could be at higher risk for developing swelling in the legs or an infection around a varicose vein.

Another complication from varicose veins is deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, which can form deep in a varicose vein. If this clot loosens and breaks free it can travel to the lungs, and the result can be a potentially fatal pulmonary embolism. Or, the clot can obstruct blood flow, which could lead to other health risks.

On the positive side, both the arterial and venous systems respond favorably to a heart healthy lifestyle including diet, exercise and hydration.

About 15 percent of American adults have venous disease. The veins become damaged or weak, and blood flows backwards and causes the veins to stretch, swell and twist.

You have a higher risk of developing varicose veins if the disease runs in your family, you are pregnant, you are overweight, or you are not active.

Poor circulation in one or more veins can lead to the blood pooling, often in the leg, which causes varicose veins. Venous disease can worsen over time due to the pressure created by the backflow of blood in the legs.

Symptoms of venous disease may include swelling or heaviness in legs, leg pain or muscle cramping, visible varicose or spider veins, skin discoloration, or restless legs.

Three tips to improve vein health

The following tips not only promote varicose vein health, but they prevent poor circulation in the arteries (peripheral arterial disease), too.

Lose weight

Not only can losing weight help prevent varicose veins by reducing pressure on your venous system, it can reduce some of the symptoms from varicose veins such as heavy, tired legs.

Exercise regularly

Blood pools in your legs and ankles when you sit or stand for long periods. If you have a desk job, commit to a 10-minute walk once a day while at the office. If you stand for long periods, take a break and elevate your legs and make sure to find time to exercise such as walking, gentle yoga or swimming.

Quit smoking

Smoking reduces blood flow, constricts blood vessels and thickens blood. If you want healthy cardiac and venous systems, do not smoke.

There is no reason to live with unsightly, heavy, tired legs these days. Modern advancements in varicose vein treatments are minimally invasive. Patients usually are home on the same day as the procedure.

San Diego Vein Institute specializes in treating venous concerns and optimizing venous health. San Diego Vein Institute is located at 336 Encinitas Boulevard, Suite 130, Encinitas, CA 92024. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (760) 944-9263 or visit