Why Do Men Overlook Their Varicose Veins?

Why do men overlook their varicose veins? (Photo: Audie/Shutterstock)

Many people (including doctors!) think that varicose veins much more commonly affect women than men and that varicose veins are caused by pregnancy. Statistics show instead that men get varicose veins almost as frequently as women do.

So why the misconception?

Most men are not particularly concerned about the appearance of their legs, perhaps because they wear trousers the majority of the time. As a consequence, men tend not to visit the doctor until the veins are very prominent and causing severe discomfort.

As a surgeon specialising in the minimally invasive treatment of varicose veins, I see vein problems right across the spectrum of disorder – from the tiny cosmetic thread veins, all the way to serious skin damage and ulceration.

It is very rare for a man to come and see me unless the veins are really massive, whereas I see a lot of women with relatively minor veins, purely because of the cosmetic dissatisfaction. This usually means that the veins are harder to fix.

If a patient has had varicose veins for a long time, the raised pressure in the veins creates damage to the skin, usually in the lower part of the leg. This damage is initially felt as a dryness or itchiness of the skin just above the ankle – towards the end of the day the ankle may swell and appear discoloured. Eventually, the skin becomes permanently discoloured with a brown stain. This severe damage sometimes then deteriorates into an ulcer – a sore at the ankle, which does not heal up. Beware! Once the skin gets into this state, it will never completely recover, even after treatment.

So why do men leave it so late? It is probably not purely related to the lack of interest in the cosmetic appearance of the leg. It is well known that men are reluctant to visit the doctor on a whole range of health matters from bowel cancer, impotence or mental health issues. It’s unclear whether this is due to embarrassment, anxiety, fear or general disinterest – possibly a combination of all of these.

Don’t wait – get that bulging vein checked. Vein problems are easily fixed these days with modern techniques. Early treatment is safer and causes less pain. Plus, generally speaking, it gets better results. The vast majority of men can get their veins sorted out with minimally invasive laser treatment. This is usually done under local anaesthetic, takes about 30 minutes and there is no need to stay in hospital overnight. It’s quite similar to going to the dentist. Having said that, lots of men avoid going to the dentist too!

Mr Eddie Chaloner is a Consultant Vascular Surgeon operating across London and the South of England through his private practice Radiance Health, and BMI Healthcare and at Benenden Hospital. Mr Chaloner is on the faculty of the minimally invasive veins course at the Royal College of Surgeons of England and is in the forefront of the latest international developments in vascular health.

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