It’s a commonly held belief that varicose veins only affect women of a certain age, so nothing for men to worry about, right? Actually, wrong – men get them too.
Varicose veins develop when the small valves inside the veins stop working properly. In a healthy vein, blood flows smoothly to the heart and is prevented from flowing backwards by a series of tiny valves which open and close to let blood through. If these valves weaken or are damaged, the blood can flow backwards and collect in the veins, eventually causing them to swell and bulge through the skin. They are often dark blue or purple in colour, which makes them even more noticeable.
Current statistics suggest that 30% of women are affected compared with 15% of men, but this lower figure may be partly because men are less likely to get medical advice.
Dr Mo Faris, our Vascular Interventional Radiologist said: “Traditionally we have had fewer male than female patients – women are more likely to be concerned about the appearance of their legs and don’t necessarily want to hide their legs under trousers all the time.
“But these days we are seeing increasing numbers of men. This might be because they are getting more health conscious and also because they are doing more sports like cycling and running and feel self-conscious about wearing shorts. If they’ve worked hard to get fit then it’s not surprising that they want their legs to look toned and healthy too.”
However, varicose veins are not always a purely cosmetic issue. Sometimes they can cause symptoms such as pain, swelling and restless legs at night and in severe cases, leg ulcers can develop.
Dr Faris said: “Patients with problem veins are often men – they tend to put off going to the doctor until the symptoms become severe, whereas women are more likely to get their veins treated before they reach this stage.”
One of our patients is Emad Ali who knows only too well the discomfort caused by problem varicose veins and is counting down the days to his treatment. He said: “I first got them in my left leg around five years ago but now I have them in both legs. The symptoms have got steadily worse to the point where I am in pain most of the time. Night time is the worst – my legs overheat, throb and itch, making it difficult to sleep – I wish I’d had them treated before they got to this stage.”
While patients with troublesome veins like Emad are obvious candidates for treatment, there’s good reason for people with a mild case to be investigated for underlying problems. An ultrasound scan is simple and painless and will reveal problems in veins that are too deep to be seen.
If treatment is required then it’s fairly straightforward nowadays. The old way of treating varicose veins was by tying them off and “stripping” them out – a major procedure carried out under general anaesthetic. Thanks to medical advances most veins can be treated quickly and effectively by minimally invasive techniques under local anaesthetic. This means that treatments can be carried out in an outpatient clinic rather than in a hospital.
We will be catching up with Emad in a few weeks’ time to find out how his procedure went, so please visit the blog again soon.