When it comes to varicose veins, you wouldn’t be alone if you’ve always thought about it as a ‘women’s problem’. But the reality is that varicose veins can develop in anyone, and plenty of men suffer the exact same discomfort and distress that they can bring.
So why do we tend to associate varicose veins with women, and what causes them to develop?
The basics: what exactly are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are swollen veins that usually appear purple or blue and can look twisted and ‘ropey’. Though they can develop on any part of your body, they’re most commonly found on the legs.
Because varicose veins are pretty noticeable, they can make you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable showing that section of skin in public, but the good news is that they don’t usually pose a serious health threat. However, they can still be painful, and might lead to other problems if left untreated. So they’re not something to ignore.
What causes varicose veins to appear in men?
Varicose veins don’t simply pop up in your body randomly – they’re caused by increased blood pressure in your veins (especially those that are near your skin’s surface) which leads to their one-way valves giving out and blood then pooling around the affected area.
Varicose veins affect 3 out of every 10 adults, and are more common in women due to the hormonal changes they undergo during menstruation and pregnancy, which can cause vein walls to become thinner and more susceptible to damage. The hormone progesterone for example is linked to varicose veins and is seen in its highest quantities in pregnant women – however, male bodies do produce some progesterone too.
Hormones though are only one risk factor that can lead to this condition. This is why it’s important to know everything that might cause it, so you’re better equipped to prevent problems from developing. For example:
A genetic predisposition to varicose veins
Your risk of developing varicose veins is higher if other people in your close family have them. In other words, they’re something you can inherit from your parents, or grandparents.
Age, weight, and varicose veins
As you age, your veins start to lose their elasticity, and the valves inside them (which are responsible for ensuring blood can only move upwards) have difficulty functioning properly. Research has found that the likelihood of a man suffering from varicose veins gets higher with age. Being overweight also causes issues by placing extra pressure on your veins, overworking your valves and making it more likely they’ll give out.
Could varicose veins be caused by… your job?
Interestingly, varicose veins have also been linked to educational level. It’s possible that those with fewer qualifications are more likely to have a job that requires them to stand for prolonged periods of time – such as checkout, field, factory, or restaurant workers – and when you’re upright, gravity makes it significantly harder for your veins to push your blood from your legs towards your heart.
If you constantly travel and spend a lot of time sitting behind a driver’s wheel or on a plane, you are also at a higher risk of developing varicose veins. That’s because the constant flexing of your calf muscles (which happens when you walk) also contributes to pushing blood upwards by repeatedly squeezing the vein, but that action stops when your legs aren’t moving.
Men who regularly engage in strenuous activities, such as carpenters and construction workers, are also more prone to developing blood clots, and those can increase the likelihood of developing varicose veins.
So why are varicose veins typically considered a female health issue?
There are numerous reasons why varicose veins aren’t readily associated with men, and it’s not just because they’re a little less likely to get them. For one thing, women tend to be more concerned about it as a cosmetic issue, and that makes them more likely to talk about it with friends or seek medical help. Women, after all, tend to show their legs in public more than men, and don’t get the luxury of having their varicose veins somewhat camouflaged by body hair.
Men are more likely to take notice of their varicose veins during the summer though, and not simply because it’s time to break out the shorts. Heat can increase the blood flow in your veins, making varicose ones appear bluer and more swollen than in colder months.
However, while women may be the most likely to seek out a solution, it’s worth noting that any treatment procedure that works for them will be effective on men too!
Varicose veins – a more serious problem in men
Though women may be more likely to have varicose veins full stop, if men develop them, they tend to experience more serious symptoms and complications such as skin inflammation, itching, and leg ulcers. So why is that?
Probably, it’s because men either don’t think varicose veins pose a serious threat, are embarrassed to talk about what they consider to be a merely cosmetic issue, or just aren’t that bothered by having these veins, and so they postpone visiting the doctor. However, it is important to be aware that immediate treatment of varicose veins not only relieves the symptoms but also reduces the risk of further complications arising in the future.
Men experience the same overall symptoms as women, but are more likely to dismiss them as being a sign of aging. If you are experiencing restless legs at night for example, you may have varicose veins. And if you are no longer enjoying walks with your family or playing with your children or grandkids due to pain in your legs, that’s another warning sign.
Unfortunately, few men seek medical attention of their own accord. While 90% of women who sought treatment for varicose veins did so without anyone else telling them to, over half of men who do so had to be encouraged by their partner.
What are the risks of not treating varicose veins?
Don’t let the stigma surrounding varicose veins prevent you from addressing this issue! It’s very common for men to think that changes caused by varicose veins don’t really need attention because they underestimate the damage that they can cause. This is evident in the fact that only 9 percent of men think varicose veins are a serious concern, while 50 percent of women see them as a health risk.
However, like other chronic medical conditions, your varicose veins will progressively get worse. They can cause dermatitis (itchy, dry, reddened skin) and lipodermatosclerosis (thickening of the skin) in the lower leg or ankle when they are not treated. They can also become painful enough to interfere with maintaining an active lifestyle. In the most serious cases, untreated varicose veins can even lead to ulcers.
It’s not just a leg issue
Any vein in the body can become varicose. As well as on the legs, they might appear on the arms, and in men, on the scrotum. That last type is referred to as a varicocele, and you might be surprised to learn it’s prevalent in younger men aged 15 to 25. Around 15 percent of men have this condition, and although it does not present a serious threat, it can in some cases decrease sperm count. What’s more, varicose veins can form on the rectum or anus. Known as hemorrhoids, these are caused by excessive straining. While it’s most common with pregnant women, it can also happen to men who are frequently constipated.
Esophageal varices are varicose veins on the esophagus (the tube connecting our mouth to our stomach), and they’re caused by liver damage i.e. cirrhosis. This condition can be brought on by excessive alcohol consumption, as well as viral infections such as hepatitis. Since men are two times more likely to binge drink than women – in fact, over 22 percent of men say they binge drink five times a month – they’re more at risk of varicose veins in this area.
But hey, men, at least there is one good bit of news for you here: you’re less prone to getting varicose veins in your pelvic area. This condition, called pelvic venous congestion syndrome (PVCS), causes chronic lower abdomen pain and can lead to visible veins on the inner thigh or, in women, the vulva.
Varicose veins are normal, and help is out there!
You may feel like you’re the only guy you know facing this problem, but rest assured that varicose veins are common even for men. Knowing that you are not alone should help to ease your mind and make seeking treatment easier, because trust us, you won’t be the first man who your doctor has seen for this issue.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways that you can manage the swelling and pain associated with varicose veins, including graduated compression socks. The important thing to remember is that they won’t go away on their own, and will only worsen over time without intervention, so treating them as soon as they appear is crucial. Once you see how treatment has made your symptoms easier to deal with and improved your quality of life, you’ll be very glad you got help!