Chronic venous disease is a common condition presenting to physicians in Western Europe and the United States. This article provides a comprehensive review of the published literature in the English language, from 1942 to the present, and focuses on the prevalence of chronic venous insufficiency and varicose veins, as well as the involved risk factors. Prevalence estimates vary widely by geographic location, with the highest reported rates in Western countries. Reports of prevalence of chronic venous insufficiency vary from < 1% to 40% in females and from < 1% to 17% in males. Prevalence estimates for varicose veins are higher, <1% to 73% in females and 2% to 56% in males. The reported ranges in prevalence estimations presumably reflect differences in the population distribution of risk factors, accuracy in application of diagnostic criteria, and the quality and availability of medical diagnostic and treatment resources. Established risk factors include older age, female gender, pregnancy, family history of venous disease, obesity, and occupations associated with orthostasis. Yet, there are several factors that are not well documented, such as diet, physical activity and exogenous hormone use, which may be important in the development of chronic venous disease and its clinical manifestations.