Varicose Veins: Not Just a Woman’s Issue

A common misconception is that only women suffer from varicose veins. In reality, a surprising 40 to 45 percent of men also suffer from varicose veins.

Why the Misconception?
While it’s true that cosmetic vein conditions, such as spider veins, arise mostly in women, there are other vein conditions—even painful ones—that occur in men almost equally. Varicose veins can be largely only cosmetic—possibly one reason why male patients are reluctant to seek out treatment. They either don’t notice, or the unsightliness doesn’t bother them. If there is pain, heaviness, or discomfort involved, men have a tendency to brush the problem off as something else—perhaps overuse or poor circulation.

Some doctors note, too, that men tend to wait to see their physician at a later stage of the condition than women do. Men tend to wait until the varicose veins are extremely painful or when they are starting to cause skin damage, which puts them at a higher risk of developing venous ulcers and other severe vein problems that are more complicated to treat.

What are the Causes, Symptoms, and Risk Factors?
Our hearts are responsible for pumping blood to other parts of the body via our arteries. Our veins then return that blood back to the heart. Veins contain valves that ensure the blood flows in the right direction; however, sometimes, these valves fail, causing blood to flow backward, pooling in the veins and causing them to expand.

The result is often a dark blue or purple, twisted vein near the skin’s surface, and symptoms include throbbing, aching, itching, or a “heaviness” in the legs. More severe symptoms can include bleeding from the vein and blood clots. Because the vascular structure of men is the same as that of women, men need to understand that they, too, are at risk for varicosities.

Varicose veins can occur in anyone, but men (and women) who sit or stand for long periods of time, specifically at their jobs, may be more susceptible to damaged veins. Varicose veins are largely hereditary, so men who have a family history of vein disease are also at a higher risk of developing varicosities themselves.

What Can I Do to Prevent Varicose Veins?

Exercise: Keeping your vein walls strong through frequent exercise is the best way to prevent varicose veins. Any physical activity will help, but it is especially important to participate in exercises that involve the calves, which play a crucial role in maintaining blood flow from your legs back to your heart. Good activities include running, bike riding, and tennis.

Switch it Up: Sitting or standing in one place for too long can cause your blood to pool, putting you at increased risk of varicosities. Take frequent breaks during your day to stretch your legs, which will improve circulation. If you sit often, take time out regularly to stand up and walk around. Conversely, if your job requires you to stand for long periods of time, make it a point to sit down or simply stretch your legs for a few minutes every hour or two.

Elevate Your Legs: Elevating your legs can help alleviate the symptoms of varicose veins and allows your veins to have a bit of a break, as they won’t have to work quite so hard to pump the blood back to your heart.

Wear Compression Hose: Compression socks or leggings provide tension that helps push blood up from the ankle and redistributes it more evenly up the leg. Compression hose can be obtained with a doctor’s prescription or over-the-counter.

Watch What You Eat: Stay away from foods high in sodium, since salt can lead to fluid retention.

What Should I Do if I Suspect Varicosities?
Remember, varicose veins are not just a woman’s problem. Seek help today if you notice twisted, bulging veins in your legs, or if you are experiencing any throbbing, aching, itching, or bleeding. If your doctor does confirm varicosities, he or she will suggest ways to treat them.

Today’s treatment options are quick, noninvasive, and done on an outpatient basis. Recovery time is quick, and pain, if any, is minimal, so men no longer have an excuse not to consult a doctor’s care for their varicose veins.