Varicose Veins Mythbuster Guide by a Board Certified Vascular Surgeon

Varicose Veins Mythbuster Guide by a Board Certified Vascular Surgeon

There are dozens of varicose vein myths that are passed on foolishly and without thought. They are sort of like idle talk or gossip.

This article will describe the most common ones that are heard in a vein specialist’s office in Pittsburgh.

“Mythbusters” was one of the most popular TV shows seen on the Discovery channel.

It was a guy thing. The New York Times published an article in the New York Times in 2016 stated that Mythbusters had the second highest shares of likes of any show by men on Facebook.

At the end of the show, the stars of Mythbusters rated the myth to be tested as busted, plausible, or confirmed (true).

This blog article will expose the most commonly believed myths about varicose and spider veins.

These myths are astonishing for most people to hear. After my patients are told the truth, they are amazed.

In fact, most people say, “Really?”

People are truly astounded when I tell them that these presumed facts are just wives’ tales or myths. This information comes from a Pittsburgh vascular surgeon who trained at the Mayo Clinic with over thirty-two years of experience treating veins.

In this article, I will first state a varicose vein myth. Instead of trying to replicate and duplicate the results, – like on the show – I will classify and rate the truthfulness of the myth. Each myth will then be rated as either true (a confirmed medical fact), a plausible statement, or as a busted (actual myth) which is misunderstood and widely believed to be the truth by most people.

I will also further grade some of the myths with the classification as being an urban myth. An urban myth has some element of humor, fear or horror involved. For instance, an example of an urban myth is that some people believe that there are alligators living in the sewer system of New York City.

Let’s get started.

Here we go.

Common Myths about Varicose Veins

Busted Myth Number 1 – Varicose Veins are a Female/Granny Thing

Most articles describe a female preponderance in the incidence of varicose veins. Most of the data on web sites is regurgitated as a fact without any scientific data to corroborate the numbers.

The results differ depending on how the data was collected. Statistics from people seeking treatment will differ from questionnaires sent to the general population.

One of the most commonly cited epidemiological studies about varicose veins is from 1994 by Callam, MJ entitled “Epidemiology of Varicose Veins”.

This study suggested that up to 15% of men and 25% of women have visible varicose veins. Those numbers come from only selecting patients who come for treatment – not the general population.

Epidemiological studies from the United Kingdom disagree with these findings.

Half of the adult population have minor signs of venous disease (women 50 to 55%; men 40 to 50%) but fewer than half of these will have visible varicose veins -Women 20 to 25% men 10 to 15%.

In 1566 subjects examined, the age adjusted prevalence of varicose veins was 40% in men and 32% in women.

These researchers found just the opposite prevalence of varicose veins in men vs. women.

Unlike many previous studies, mainly conducted in the 1960s and 1970s, chronic venous insufficiency and mild varicose veins were more common in men than women.

It is my belief as a practicing vascular surgeon specializing in veins that men have at least the same incidence of varicose veins as women.

Men don’t present to the doctor for treatment until their veins are massive. Men usually put off the treatment of the veins in their legs.

Symptoms often don’t occur in men unless complications such as phlebitis (clots in varicose veins or skin ulcers have occurred.)

Many women seek treatment for varicose veins for cosmetic reasons.

Many men just don’t care what their legs look like. I know this to be true from over thirty years of treating venous problems.

Busted Myth Number 2 – Crossing Your Legs Causes Spider and Varicose Veins

The reason that people believe this is that spider veins often occur where the legs touch when they are crossed.

This is an association and not a cause.

Just because there is a scarcity of storks in Denmark doesn’t account for that country’s low birth rate.

Likewise, spider veins are genetically inherited. Cross your legs all you want. It doesn’t cause spider veins.

Busted Myth Number 3 – Walking on Concrete Causes Varicose Veins

I hear it all of the time. A vein doctor from Alaska asked other vein doctors at a vein conference rhetorically how this one got started.

No one knows.

It’s just another association – not a cause – that gets passed on. This old wives’ tale has the added classification as being an urban myth (macabre). It implies that somehow concrete can exude something into your legs that could cause varicose veins.

Varicose veins are caused by incompetent valves in your veins. That makes blood back up and go to your feet instead of back to your heart.

No matter what you walk or stand on, the valves in your legs cannot possibly be adversely affected.

Plausible Myth Number 4 – Varicose Veins Are Cosmetic

Many large varicose veins really are truly asymptomatic. Men may have less symptoms than women for hormonal reasons.

Many women complain that their veins and legs hurt and ache more around the time of their periods. Progesterone causes venous dilatation.

During pregnancy, this is one of the reasons that women notice dilated varicose veins.

Because men lack progesterone and often don’t care how their varicose veins appear. That’s why men often don’t seek treatment until complications occur.

Busted Myth Number 5 – Exercise Makes Varicose Veins Worse

The reason that this is a busted myth is that veins become more dilated after exercise. The veins carry blood back to your heart. When you exercise, the venous flow increases from the muscles that are exercised.

In fact, after exercise, muscle contraction improves the venous return.

Therefore, exercise actually improves your venous return and does not make your varicose veins worse.

Plausible Myth Number 6 – Treatment Causes New Veins to Appear

This was true after varicose veins were done with the stripping operation.

Neovascularization (new very tortuous veins) often occurred in the area of the invasive surgical trauma. These new veins resulted from ripping the varicose veins out of your body under general anesthesia.

With modern minimally invasive treatment, the incidence of neovascularization is very low.

Although new veins can occur, this type of aggressive pattern of vein regeneration is rarely seen anymore.

Confirmed Truth (Not a Myth) Number 7 – Varicose Vein Treatments are Expensive

The average cost to treat varicose veins is well over a thousand dollars with insurance coverage. Depending on the extent of your vein problem, it could be thousands of dollars.

Make sure that the vein center that you choose doesn’t charge an additional facility fee. That could double your total cost.

With higher deductibles and coinsurance requirements, much of this cost may be out-of-pocket and out of reach for many people. For more and more people, you can’t even use your insurance since the deductibles are so high. Insurance companies are also becoming more restrictive in regards to varicose vein treatments.

For these reasons, varicose vein treatments are becoming too expensive for many people.

Plausible Myth Number 8 – Vein Screenings are Medically Helpful

Preventative treatment for varicose veins is not a covered service by any insurance company.

Screenings are meant to pick up medical problems before they get out of control. They must be statistically proven to save money as well.

Although screening may compensate for the lack of referrals by primary care doctors, today’s screenings for varicose veins are largely marketing schemes to capture more revenue by the opportunistic vein doctors conducting them.

There is a tsunami of disenchanted doctors who are switching into treating veins after training in other specialties.

Don’t get trapped in their “screening” net.


Confused about varicose veins?

Need a second opinion from a vascular surgeon specializing in veins?

There is no doctor in Pittsburgh is more qualified in diagnosing and treating varicose veins.

We’re kind of a big deal.

Your veins are only going to get worse. They never get better when you ignore them.

It might be time to take a bite of the reality sandwich.

Insurance coverage gets more restrictive and more expensive every year.

Discover the truth about your varicose veins. Dr. Happel will tell you their cause and discuss your treatment options.

Call us at 724-969-0600 to learn more or click our contact link for more information.

About The Author

Dr. John Happel

Dr. John Happel has been in practice as a surgeon since 1986 in the Pittsburgh region. He specializes in vascular surgery and has subspecialized in the treatment of varicose and spider veins since 1999. Dr. Happel is board certified in vascular surgery and recertified in vascular surgery in 2012. He was chosen in 1985 to fulfill the position for the vascular surgical fellowship at the world renowned Mayo Clinic.