Why Do So Many Nurses Have Varicose Veins?

National Nurses Week is May 6-12, and we are grateful for all the nurses who work so tirelessly. It’s a demanding profession that can take a toll on those who choose to pursue a career in caring for others. In fact, the physical toll of a nursing career includes an increased risk of developing varicose veins, which we can attest to as we treat many nurses here at East Tennessee Vein Clinic.

Nursing requires standing for long periods of time, often in 12-hour shifts, which contributes to the development of varicose veins. In addition, although trends are shifting, nursing was once a profession filled by more women than men. Women are about twice as likely to have varicose veins during their lifetime than men.

Compounding that gender risk factor is the fact that female hormones play a role in varicose veins. Progesterone relaxes the smooth muscle in vein walls, allowing the vein to stretch. For many women, each pregnancy also increases varicose vein disease and symptoms.

Weakened or stretched veins add stress on the one-way valves in the veins that are supposed to keep blood moving from the leg upward to the heart. When weakened veins aren’t strong enough to work against gravity to push the blood upward, the blood flows back into the veins. Over time, the veins then become enlarged, or varicose. This often causes symptoms such as swelling, pain, aching, throbbing, heaviness, or the sensation of restless legs.

In addition to long periods of standing, gender, hormones, and pregnancy, there are other risk factors for varicose veins that affect both men and women, including family history and aging. If one of your parents has varicose veins you have a 40% likelihood of developing them. If both of your parents have them you have an 80% chance of developing diseased veins. And since varicose veins are a progressive and chronic condition, as you get older the disease and accompanying symptoms become worse.

Being overweight or obese also contributes to varicose veins. Carrying extra weight puts more pressure on your legs’ veins, further weakening the one-way valves which then allow blood to pool in the veins.

What Nurses Can Do About Varicose Veins

Although nursing inherently requires long periods of standing, there are some steps nurses can take to reduce the development or progression of varicose veins, as well as to alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms of swelling, pain, or heaviness, including:

  • Wear supportive shoes and graduated compression stockings to promote circulation throughout your legs. While some nurses wear TED stockings for this purpose, these stockings are not always sufficient because they only have up to 15 mm Hg compression. Nurses may need 20-30 mm Hg graduated compression over the calf for optimal support.
  • Take seated breaks when you can, ideally in a place and position that allows you to elevate your legs.
  • Lie down and elevate your legs above heart-level for at least 20 minutes to improve circulation in your legs, especially after your shifts.
  • If your symptoms of aching, swelling, throbbing, or pain are interfering with your work or other daily activities, talk with a vein specialist about treatment options.

At East Tennessee Vein Clinic, we help many nurses get rid of their varicose veins so they don’t have to suffer from symptoms such as swelling, aching, throbbing, heaviness, or even restless legs. When our patients learn that today’s advanced treatments are quick and require little to no down time, plus are typically covered by insurance, they’re glad they didn’t delay treatment any longer.

As the first physician dedicated solely to the treatment of vein disease in Tennessee, Dr. Douglass and East Tennessee Vein Clinic leads the region in experience and expertise of varicose veins. We treat veins differently than other clinics precisely because of our dedication to treating the root cause and full extent of each patient’s vein disease.

Visit us online at East Tennessee Vein Clinic, or call 866-281-VEIN, or request an appointment online today. We are offering free vein screenings through May. Please mention free screenings when making your appointment.

“Dr. Douglass and his staff are excellent!!”

- K. W., Fairfield Glade, TN