The Hormone Effect: Progesterone Increases the Risk of Varicose Veins

Many factors can predispose someone to developing varicose veins, including heredity, obesity, and standing for prolonged periods. Both men and women are affected, but not equally. So why are women at such a higher risk of developing venous leg issues?

One of the biggest reasons is hormones, specifically progesterone and its synthetic twin progestin.

Hormone surges during pregnancy

Women’s bodies naturally produce certain levels of progesterone, estrogen, and to a lesser degree, testosterone. However, when a woman becomes pregnant, there is a tremendous fluctuation in hormones, including a surge in progesterone production.

A 2009 study out of Croatia, Effect of progesterone and pregnancy on the development of varicose veins, 1 found a correlation between pregnant women who had higher progesterone levels and increased development of varicose veins. It turns out that leg veins are particularly sensitive to the influx of extra progesterone, which results in weakened vessel walls. Pregnant women also have the additional risk factors of increased abdominal pressure, which inhibits blood flow, and extra blood volume, both of which contribute to the problem.

Hormone supplements can raise your risk

Likewise, women who take progestin-containing birth control pills or hormone supplements to reduce the symptoms of menopause may have an increased risk of developing varicose and spider veins. Even the synthetic version causes vein walls to dilate, making them more prone to problems.

What’s the solution? 

  1. In all cases, walk. The action of walking helps pump blood back toward the heart and prevents it from pooling in the legs. Some people will develop varicose veins no matter what, but walking can reduce their severity.
  2. When at rest, elevate the legs as much as possible to give gravity a chance to help veins return blood to the heart.
  3. Wear compression stockings to apply pressure to your lower legs. If you want to avoid the look of traditional beige stockings, ask for black, which offer a more fashionable tights-like style.
  4. Be evaluated by a specialist. Treating vein disease will help your legs look and feel better and will actually improve the health of your legs.

If you suspect you have a problem with varicose veins, call to schedule your consultation with Dr. Kezele in Beachwood at 216.464.7333 or Willoughby at 440.946.9080. Your consultation and treatment are covered by most insurance plans.


1 Effect of progesterone and pregnancy on the development of varicose veins. Lenković M, Cabrijan L, Gruber F, Batinac T, Manestar-Blazić T, Stanić Zgombić Z, Stasić A. Acta Dermatovenerol Croat. 2009;17(4):263-7.