Venous hypoxia has long been postulated as a potential cause of varicosity formation. This article aimed to review the development of this hypothesis, including evidence supporting and controversies surrounding it. Vein wall oxygenation is achieved by oxygen diffusing from luminal blood and vasa vasorum. The whole media of varicosities is oxygenated by vasa vasorum as compared to only the outer two-thirds of media of normal veins. There was no evidence that differences exist between oxygen content of blood from varicose and non-varicose veins, although the former demonstrated larger fluctuations with postural changes. Studies using cell culture and ex vivo explants demonstrated that hypoxia activated leucocytes and endothelium which released mediators regulating vein wall remodelling similar to those observed in varicosities. Venoactive drugs may improve venous oxygenation, and inhibit hypoxia activation of leucocytes and endothelium. The evidence for hypoxia as a causative factor in varicosities remains inconclusive, mainly due to heterogeneity and poor design of published in vivostudies. However, molecular studies have shown that hypoxia was able to cause inflammatory changes and vein wall remodelling similar to those observed in varicosities. Further studies are needed to improve our understanding of the role of hypoxia and help identify potential therapeutic targets.

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