Alcohol & Smoking

Does alcohol cause varicose veins?

During the pandemic, South Africans have had to adjust to not being able to buy alcohol and cigarettes as freely as they used to be able to – and sometimes not at all. While there has been a lot of griping on social media about this, many people have found that this is the excuse they needed to cut back on their drinking and quit smoking for good.

One benefit of this decreased consumption could be improved vein health, so in this blog we’re taking a look at the links between alcohol, cigarettes and varicose veins.

Alcohol and your veins

While the jury is out on just what constitutes a ‘safe’ amount of alcohol to drink, most doctors agree that less is more. The negative impacts of alcohol will be familiar to most people, but did you know how alcohol affects your circulation?
Drinking can impact your liver, reducing its ability to filter your blood. This can lead to your blood becoming thicker, which can place greater strain on your veins. Even a single drink can raise your heartrate (at least temporarily) – this too can result in damage to your veins. You can already see how alcohol can indirectly contribute to the development of varicose veins.

Weaker vein walls and increased blood pressure can cause your veins (especially in your lower legs) to bulge and cause you pain – either leading to or adding to varicose veins. If you do already have varicose veins, it’s clear that reducing or even completely cutting out alcohol would be a good move if you want to reduce the pain and discomfort you’re feeling.

Another reason not to smoke

Unlike alcohol, there are absolutely no health benefits to smoking, even if it’s just the occasional cigarette. Hopefully by now no-one should need reminding of the dangers of smoking in terms of lung and heart health, and increased cancer risks.
But what about your veins? Can cigarettes affect those, too? As you might have guessed, the answer is yes – and it’s not good news.

Don’t light up!

Just one cigarette can lead to temporary vasoconstriction – that is, narrowing of the veins. This can become permanent if you smoke regularly. Narrower veins mean that it’s harder for your body to return blood to your heart, so it can start to pool – and that’s when varicose veins happen.

Cigarette smoke contains literally hundreds of chemicals, with one of the most harmful being carbon monoxide (in high concentrations, this can even be deadly). This gas reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, and this can lead to inflamed, damaged vein linings. Weaker vein walls can of course lead to varicose veins.

A perfect storm of risks

Older women who are moderate to heavy smokers, and who are menopausal, are among the highest risk groups for varicose veins. All these factors – plus other lifestyle considerations, such as sedentary jobs – can combine to cause venous reflux disease and all the discomfort, pain, and inconvenience that comes with it.

Make the change

If you’re still a smoker or someone who perhaps drinks more than they should, we hope this blog has given you pause for thought. The health problems associated with both of these behaviours are well-known; varicose veins are just one of a long list of problems that you could experience after years of drinking and smoking.
There’s never be a better time to quit smoking and reduce your alcohol consumption. It’s time to save money, save your health – and save your veins!

For more information on how your lifestyle choices can affect your veins, or for treatment options if you already have varicose veins, contact Dr Francois Steyn on 012 993 4161 or 012 993 0911, or at to arrange a consultation.