Chronic Venous Disease

Causes of Chronic Venous Disease

Chronic Venous Insufficiency

Varicose Veins

Heavy, Painful & Swollen Legs

8/17/2023

Can Weather Changes or Altitude Worsen Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins are generally (and mistakenly) regarded as being a condition that only affects a small percentage of the elderly population. Although it is very difficult to accurately gauge the exact numbers, perhaps it will come as a shock to learn that not only is it an incredibly common issue – recent studies estimate that 20% of the global population will suffer from varicose veins at some point in their lives1 but that it is also an affliction by no means limited to only the oldest within society. However, despite it being so prevalent, there is surprisingly little accepted common knowledge about how external factors can impact chronic venous disease including varicose veins.

That’s why, if you’re planning to travel but you don’t know how to choose your next destination, in this article we help you to decide based on how different climates can affect varicose veins. For instance, it is known that heatwaves can make venous insufficiency worse, but what about other extreme weather changes and altitudes? What are the effects of altered pressure on varicose veins?

Find out if mountain or beach destinations are better for venous diseases, and how different temperatures can impact blood circulation in the legs.

 

hot and cold temperatures

Are hot or cold temperatures better for varicose veins?

Generally speaking, it is considered that hotter temperatures are better for varicose veins than colder ones (since winter months can increase blood pressure thus decreasing blood flow).2

As such, it is widely accepted and known that ambient temperature can have a significant impact on the rate of our blood flow, and the worsening of chronic venous disease such as varicose veins.

Even though cold weather seems to be a culprit in the heightened appearance of blood circulation problems and hot temperatures have been used as a localized therapy to improve chronic venous insufficiency,3 it seems that extreme temperatures overall, whether colder or hotter, can have a negative impact on the blood circulation of the legs, as shown below.

 

Cold temperatures

Hot temperatures

Direct effect

Cold temperatures can affect our blood circulation as a result of veins shrinking which causes the blood flow to slow.4

Hot temperatures can also affect blood circulation since they provoke our veins to expand (known as vasodilation), which can worsen vein disease symptoms.5

Negative effects

More likely to suffer from venous diseases in this period, immobility during winter months, infections, and food habits which may lead to weight gain.6

Heat causes the widening of the blood vessels in the skin to allow heat transfer from the body to its surroundings. This means that an important portion of blood from the abdominal organs is redirected to the skin.7 This requires such an effort from the body that we experience an elevation in heart rate.

Positive effects

Since small blood vessels would be more constricted, cooler temperatures can ease the discomfort of varicose veins. Painful and heavy legs, cramps, and swelling tend to become less severe in cold weather.

Vasodilation increases blood flow and blood circulation through the body.8

Altitude and its effect on varicose veins

 

high altitude

The Highs: Mountain destinations

Less commonly taken into consideration, altitude also plays an important part in how our body and veins adjust to external ambient factors. It is estimated that close to 40 million people go to high altitude locations every year, such as mountain trips, but little is known about the physical effects of altitude on the body, especially for those suffering from varicose veins of chronic venous insufficiency. These are some of the most common effects of high altitudes on the body9:

  • Increased ventilation
  • Increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries
  • Increased activity of the sympathetic system
  • Tachycardia
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Reduced plasma volume
  • Increased blood viscosity

However, altitude does not only affect mountain trips, since long-haul airplane trips may also cause some similar, although less severe, effects on the body due to altitude. However, since the cabins are pressurized, the effects are not always present, although it is estimated that 86% of all travelers can suffer from lower-limb edema due to an increased capillary filtration, and reduced space and mobility.8

According to studies done on the so-called exposure to high-altitudes, the environmental conditions caused by high altitude such as hypoxia (low levels of oxygen), dehydration, hemoconcentration, low temperature, and the use of constrictive clothing are risk factors that can cause the appearance of thrombotic disorders, while also worsening venous insufficiency diseases such as varicose veins.10

 

low altitude

The Lows: Destinations by the sea

So, if mountain peaks present their own dangers and potential risks to those suffering from venous insufficiency diseases such as varicose veins, what about the other end of the spectrum? With the Mariana Trench being even deeper than Mount Everest is tall – what about scuba diving?

While studies are hard to find, there seems to be a general consensus that since diving puts a greater strain on our blood flow, it is recommended that diving candidates over the age of 45 should undergo a thorough medical evaluation prior to plunging into the depths. At the same time, there does exist quite an extensive list within the guidelines of who should not dive.11

Overall, altitude and pressure are unlikely to have a life-threatening effect on chronic venous insufficiency or varicose veins. The best destinations for those suffering from varicose veins include places with milder climates and not too high in altitude. However, since weather changes can have an impact, sometimes worsening the disease, it is always advisable to seek the opinion of your doctor if you are planning to travel to destinations that are renowned for extreme weather conditions.

Forever being mindful of the fact that chronic venous disease such as varicose veins are degenerative conditions, there are precautionary measures and treatments available, such as venotonic medications that can efficiently improve the tone of the veins, and effectively stop the development of more serious issues, such as the formation of a Deep Vein Thrombosis.

REFERENCES

  1. NCBI - Varicose veins: Overview. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279247/
  2. Park, Sungha; Kario, Kazuomi; Chia, Yook‐Chin; Turana, Yuda; Chen, Chen‐Huan; Buranakitjaroen, Peera; Nailes, Jennifer; Hoshide, Satoshi; Siddique, Saulat; Sison, Jorge; Soenarta, Arieska Ann; Sogunuru, Guru Prasad; Tay, Jam Chin; Teo, Boon Wee; Zhang, Yu‐Qing; Shin, Jinho; Minh, Huynh; Tomitani, Naoko; Kabutoya, Tomoyuki; Sukonthasarn, Apichard; Verma, Narsingh; Wang, Tzung‐Dau; Wang, Ji‐Guang (2019). The influence of the ambient temperature on blood pressure and how it will affect the epidemiology of hypertension in Asia. The Journal of Clinical Hypertension, (), jch.13762–. doi:10.1111/jch.13762, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jch.13762
  3. Lacroix P, Aboyans V, Cornu E. Traitement thermal de l'insuffisance veinolymphatique chronique des membres inférieurs [Heat therapy in chronic venous insufficiency of the legs]. Rev Prat. 2000 Jun 1;50(11):1212-5. French, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11008503/ 
  4. Shepherd JT, Rusch NJ, Vanhoutte PM. Effect of cold on the blood vessel wall. Gen Pharmacol. 1983;14(1):61-4. doi: 10.1016/0306-3623(83)90064-2. PMID: 6131011, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6131011/
  5. Cheng JL, MacDonald MJ. Effect of heat stress on vascular outcomes in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2019 Mar 1;126(3):771-781. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00682.2018. Epub 2019 Jan 24. PMID: 30676869; PMCID: PMC6459390, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6459390/
  6. Fares A. Winter cardiovascular diseases phenomenon. N Am J Med Sci. 2013 Apr;5(4):266-79. doi: 10.4103/1947-2714.110430, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3662093/
  7. Harikrishna Halaharvi et al. (2020). Heat Exposure and Cardiovascular Health: A Summary for Health Departments, from https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/docs/HeatCardiovasculoarHealth-508.pdf
  8. CBI - Physiology, Vasodilation. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557562/
  9. Mikołajczak K, Czerwińska K, Pilecki W, Poręba R, Gać P, Poręba M. The Impact of Temporary Stay at High Altitude on the Circulatory System. J Clin Med. 2021 Apr 12;10(8):1622, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8068881/
  10. Gupta N, Ashraf MZ. Exposure to high altitude: a risk factor for venous thromboembolism? Semin Thromb Hemost. 2012 Mar;38(2):156-63, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22422330/
  11. Jepson N, Rienks R, Smart D, Bennett MH, Mitchell SJ, Turner M. South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society guidelines for cardiovascular risk assessment of divers. Diving Hyperb Med. 2020 Sep 30;50(3):273-277, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7819720/

2024