In The Big M book ( Becoming A Menopause Goddess e-book), I bemoaned all the weird “marks” that appeared on my body with Menopause. I noted that my legs were patterned with blue highways to the golden years – yep, spider veins and varicosities seemed to appear overnight. (Along with brown spots, moles, and a host of other fun dermal puzzles.) Was I imagining that Menopause was to blame?
Our friends at DoctorQA.com have some answers for Menopause Goddesses in this guest post. So glad to know I wasn’t crazy – there really is a connection. And some simple things that we can do to help.
Menopause and Varicose Veins: How Are They Connected?
Women approaching menopause can be glad to live in an era when discussion of the process and its accompanying changes is no longer hush-hush and taboo. Any biologically based changes in one’s body will be accepted and responded to better when accompanied by information and education. Since it occurs naturally, some do not consider menopause to be a medical condition per se. However it does have practical ramifications for women’s health, especially for bones and cardiovascular health.
There are many hormonal changes that accompany menopause, primary of these being decreased production of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone by the ovaries. There are also increased levels of two hormones of the pituitary gland – luteinizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone – that usually stimulate estrogen production by the ovaries in the pre-menopausal years. Other tissues in a menopausal woman’s body continue to produce estrogen, and the adrenal glands make some progesterone, but the overall levels of the two hormones become much lower during and after menopause. This brings on the familiar symptoms of hot flashes, loss of bone density and otherwise unexplained episodes of fatigue or depression.
Less well known is the fact that estrogen and progesterone have positive effects on all of the circulatory system, not just the heart. Veins of the leg in particular are known to express receptors for progesterone – even in men! (There are low levels of all the sex hormones in both men and women.) Therefore some doctors believe the decreased levels of progesterone during and after menopause may contribute to the development of varicose veins, which women are more predisposed to than men. The drop in hormone levels may also contribute to the weakening of the valves that veins contain, which is known to be important in the development of varicose veins.
Menopause of course can’t be prevented, but the negative symptoms are often treated with hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Whether HRT reduces a woman’s chance of developing varicose veins has not been studied directly. However, most HRT preparations include both estrogen and progesterone – the combination seems safer than estrogen alone – and progesterone is predicted to be necessary for healthy veins, based on the presence of its receptors there.
Menopausal women concerned about varicose or spider veins can do a number of things in addition to HRT to reduce the likelihood of their appearance. Perhaps the most powerful preventative is regular exercise for the legs – walking, running, biking and swimming all stimulate circulation in the legs. Good circulation is key to preventing the pooling of blood in veins that causes them to become varicose. One can also avoid some of the common risk factors for developing varicose veins, such as smoking, becoming diabetic and a sedentary lifestyle.
Both sitting and standing in one place for hours at a time increase the risk of varicose veins. Therefore those in jobs requiring long hours of sitting or standing in place should take frequent but very short breaks, just to walk around a bit. Any additional exercise after work hours will only help. Wearing of support stockings is generally good for the veins of the leg and can also help prevent the onset of varicose veins. Lastly, keeping the legs and feet elevated when sitting is helpful – and it feels great, too!