Patients with varicose veins at greater risk for thrombosis, other vascular diseases

Adults diagnosed with varicose veins are at an increased risk of deep venous thrombosis (DVT), according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Currently, 23 percent of U.S. adults have varicose veins.

Researchers in Taiwan sought to investigate whether varicose veins are associated with an increased risk of DVT, pulmonary embolism (PE) and peripheral artery disease (PAD). Previous research into the association between varicose veins and the incidence of the aforementioned vascular diseases is sparse.

“Because of the high prevalence of varicose veins, elucidating potential associations between varicose veins and health-threatening diseases is important,” wrote lead author Pei-Chun Chen, PhD, with the China Medical University in Taichung, Taiwan, and colleagues. “Previous studies evaluating the association of varicose veins with venous and arterial disease were cross-sectional or case-control studies, had relatively small sample sizes, and did not verify the diagnosis of varicose veins. Limited data are available from longitudinal cohort studies to investigate the association between varicose veins and the subsequent incidence of vascular diseases.”

The study cohort for the retrospective analysis used data from Taiwan’s National Health Insurance program. Patients diagnosed with varicose veins between 2001 and 2013 and a control group were studied—each group having an 212,984 participants—and they were followed through 2014.

The incidence rates of study participants were assessed, and it was found that patients exhibiting varicose veins had a five times higher incidence rate than the control group for DVT. They were also twice as likely to develop PE and PAD.

“Among adults diagnosed with varicose veins, there was a significantly increased risk of incident DVT,” the authors wrote. “The findings for PE and PAD are less clear due to the potential for confounding. Whether the association between varicose veins and DVT is causal or represents a common set of risk factors requires further research.”

The chief weakness of the study was the database did not provide information on patients who did not seek medical care.