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What is Vascularity?

By Cynthia Gomez
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Vascularity refers to the appearance of the veins through the skin. It means that the veins are not just visible, but often also protrude up from the rest of the body, forming little channels that can be easily seen. Male bodybuilders often strive to achieve this look when competing because it can give the perception of muscle fitness.

The vascular system is the highway for blood traveling through the body, and it includes arteries and capillaries as well as veins. Vascularity occurs when these blood vessels become engorged.

While genetics and environmental temperature can affect a person's level of vascularity, so do other, more controllable factors. Perhaps the most important of these is body fat. People who have an extremely small amount of body fat tend to be more vascular than those with moderate to high amounts. This explains why bodybuilders often have protruding veins.

Another factor that can affect how vascular a person appears is low water retention. For this reason, bodybuilders often lower their water intake in the days before a competition, despite the fact that this self-imposed dehydration can have negative health consequences. Decreasing or eliminating the intake of salt can also lead to increased engorgement of the vessels, because salt intake promotes water retention; this is another frequently used technique of bodybuilders seeking to improve their appearance for competition. Lifting weights also increases the appearance of veins, albeit temporarily, by delivering more blood to the muscles being worked. This is why bodybuilders will often pump iron just before they pose for judging at competitions.

Topical solutions can also be used to increase vascularity. Bodybuilders often used menthol-based vasodilators, which work by increasing blood flow to the area of the body where they are applied. Topical vasodilators are often sold as sexual dysfunction aids, because they help send blood to the sexual regions, resulting in engorgement.

While it may seem like prominent blood vessels is a condition to aspire to, this is not always the case. It can signal high blood pressure, which can lead to a stroke or heart attack. In addition, the swelling can result from a condition called arteriosclerosis, in which the arteries thicken and stiffen. This is dangerous because if vessels become clogged, blood can't flow to the two main organs responsible for sustaining life — the heart and brain. This sometimes results in internal bleeding.

Decreased vascularity can point to danger as well. Some conditions that can cause this decrease include acidosis, in which toxins build up in the blood; severely low blood pressure; low blood sugar levels; and serious mitochondrial diseases.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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Discussion Comments

By anon950899 — On May 13, 2014

I am a female with quite obvious vascularity, perhaps from being 199 pounds and now weighing in at 152. I am a true mesomorph with lower body fat and low blood pressure.

It's sad that people have to insult the look of vascularity. It's something that comes quite natural to some, others have to work for it. Personally, I am very proud. After walking around looking like a dump truck for 10 years, it's a look that took a lot of hard work and discipline. I wear it like a badge of honor.

By anon333122 — On May 03, 2013

I am a health activist. I am of the opinion that protruding veins are not a sign of optimal health. They do not look attractive, either. I have always trained with heavy weights and I do not have protruding veins.

At my peak I dead lifted 230 kilograms at a body mass of 100 kilograms giving me a power to body mass ratio of 2.3. I am currently 86 and my maximum in the dead lift is 160 kilograms.

At 64, I was still a South African weight lifting champion in my weight class.

By Perdido — On May 13, 2012

I just don’t think that the protruding veins of a bodybuilder are attractive at all. I think that their muscles are way too huge, and they actually look a bit scary.

They don’t look like ordinary humans to me. Veins bulging up from where they actually belong repulse me, and I can’t stand to look at them for very long.

My friend started dating a guy with veins like these, and she never could understand why I didn’t want to make plans with the two of them. I couldn’t tell her that her boyfriend’s vascularity grossed me out, so I just told her I thought they should spend more time alone.

By cloudel — On May 13, 2012

@shell4life - Yes, this does sound like a very unhealthy thing. I rode a ride at a local fair that made me experience temporary vascularity, and I was scared that my veins might pop from all the pressure.

The ride should have come with a warning. All it consisted of was a rapidly spinning round room that I stood inside of against a wall. The extreme pressure mashed my body against the side, and I could feel my veins rising to the surface of my skin.

I could actually see the veins in my arms protruding, but there was nothing I could do then. I just prayed that they would not pop and that the ride would be over soon.

By shell4life — On May 12, 2012

My boss has vascularity in his forehead whenever he is really stressed or upset. It is kind of scary to see his vein popping out so far, because it makes me think that it might be about to burst.

I saw this happen when someone screwed up over a thousand copies of a car dealer’s insert that was about to go in our newspaper. The deed was already done, and thousands of dollars were lost because of this mistake.

My boss knew that he was about to have to tell the car dealer the bad news. His forehead veins were fully visible and throbbing as he walked into this office to make the call.

It can’t be good for a person to endure stress that results in frequent vascularity. I wouldn’t be surprised if my boss just fell over dead in his office one day.

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