Some people may not know that varicose veins can affect both women AND men in various ways.

Let start with men.

Varicocele is a fairly common condition that affects approximately 10% of men, and is partially responsible for approximately 40% of male infertility problems. Why? Varicocele is defined as varicose veins that are found in and around the testicles that cause abnormal blood flow. When blood cannot circulate in and out of the testicles properly this can cause the temperature of the testicles to rise. As we’ve learned in the past, there is a strong relationship between heated testicles and infertility. So much so that it is recommended that men who are trying to increase sperm health and conceive should follow several tips to reduce heat exposure. These tips include completely avoiding the use of laptops on their laps, avoiding hot tubs and trying to wear highly breathable underwear as often as possible.

But I digress, varicocele also causes abnormal testosterone levels, which makes sperm production and maturation more difficult. Men who suffer from varicocele usually produce underdeveloped, damaged, dying or dead sperm. Varicocele can occur in both testicles, but apparently occurs in just the left testicle 85% of the time. Symptoms associated with varicocele include testicle pain and heaviness, testicle skrinkage and the presence of enlarged veins that are either visible or can be found by touch. Sometimes these varicose veins are so small that they can only be detected through ultrasound.

Treating varicocele depends on the severity of the condition. Many men with varicocele do not experience negative symptoms or infertility, and therefore do not really require treatment. For men with varicocele who are in pain and suffering from fertility issues or testicular damage, surgical procedures are available to alleviate their symptoms. Recurrent varicocele occurs in approximately 5-20% of men with the condition, but statistically speaking more than half the men with varicocele who have the surgery are able to conceive a child within the following year.

Now, it’s the ladies’ turn.

Women are less lucky when it comes to where varicose veins decide to unleash their fury. Mainly developed on their legs, varicose veins can make legs feel achy or sluggish, and the skin surrounding the veins often experience itchiness or a burning-type feeling. Some lucky women who have varicose veins may experience little to no discomfort, apart from them being aesthetically displeasing. Most women develop varicose veins, or they tend to get worse, during pregnancy. This is due to the fact that as the uterus grows, it tends to put a considerable amount of pressure on the inferior vena cava, a large vein located on the left side of the body. This results in increased pressure in the veins that are located in the legs.

Considering the laws of gravity alone, leg veins are always hard at work, even on a good day. But since the amount of blood a woman has in her body increases during pregnancy, this applies additional pressure on the blood vessels to work even harder at pumping blood around the body. Furthermore, progesterone levels skyrocket during pregnancy. High progesterone levels influence many changes to the female body while pregnant such as causing the walls of blood vessels throughout the body to relax, making way for increased blood flow. This unfortunately just makes varicose veins all the more visible.

Although varicose veins tend to disappear somewhat after giving birth, they tend to get worse with successive pregnancies and with age. Several additional risk factors include being overweight, carrying twins or multiples and/or standing for long periods of time. Pregnant women also often experience ‘spider veins’ on the ankles, legs and face, which are tiny sunburst-like patterned blood vessels. But they typically disappear after delivery as well.

So what can women do to prevent varicose veins, or at least diminish them during and after pregnancy? Here are some tips:
  • Exercise daily
  • Stay within a healthy weight range during pregnancy as suggested by a physician
  • Elevate legs and feet whenever and wherever possible
  • Wear supportive pantyhose
  • Do not sit or stand for long periods of time without taking breaks
  • Avoid crossing legs and ankles while sitting
  • Sleep on left side to take pressure off of the inferior vena cava

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