While varicose veins are often seen as more of a women’s health issue, the fact is that some 10-20% of men have varicose veins (Segiet et al., 2015). What’s more, that number is growing at an alarming rate, possibly due to the rise in obesity and because men are living longer than ever before.
Varicose veins are more than simply a cosmetic consideration. They may be a sign of hormonal disturbances, cardiovascular problems, and other systemic health issues.
Varicose veins can also be painful, unsightly and embarrassing, and may lead to:
- Problematic bleeding
- Skin ulcers (which increase the risk of infection)
- Skin discoloration and damage
- A feeling of heaviness in the legs.
It is easy, then, to see how varicose veins may interfere with everyday activities and have a significant impact on a man’s professional and personal life.
Why do men develop varicose veins?
There are a number of factors that increase the likelihood of a man being affected by varicose veins, including:
- Genetics (family history)
- Older age
- Obesity and overweight
- Standing occupations
- Frequent heavy lifting
- History of deep vein thrombosis.
Healthy circulation relies on the use of the muscles in the lower limbs, which squeezes the veins and encourages the return of blood to the heart. As such, men who spend a lot of time standing are at a higher risk of blood pooling in the lower limbs, putting pressure on the veins and increasing the risk of bulging.
Men who spend more than 6 hours a day on their feet have a three-fold increase in the risk of developing varicose veins (Tabatabaeifar et al., 2015). The risk is even higher for men whose jobs frequently involve heavy lifting – almost four times as high, in fact!
How hormones raise the risk of varicose veins in men
Hormonal disturbances are now thought to play a part in the development of varicose veins in men (Özcan et al., 2015). It is no great surprise, then, that varicose veins are increasingly common, given that more men than ever are obese or overweight, and that a higher degree of body fat is associated with endocrine (hormone) irregularities.
One recent study found a recurrence rate of 52% for varicose veins 5 years after surgery in men with a high ratio of estradiol (the most potent form of estrogen) to free testosterone (Özcan et al., 2015). The recurrence rate was just 32% in men undergoing similar surgery but who had no endocrine problems.
Such figures demonstrate the importance of eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight throughout life. For some men, varicose veins may actually be a barrier to exercise, whether due to embarrassment over unsightly veins or because of pain caused by bulging veins in the legs. Surgery for varicose veins can help remove this barrier and enable men to engage in regular exercise so as to achieve their target weight.
Getting appropriate treatment for varicose veins
Many men choose to undergo varicose vein treatment for aesthetic reasons but, as mentioned above, varicose vein surgery can also help in cases where these bulging veins are causing pain and other symptoms.
Varicose vein treatment has come a long way in recent years, with many men able to undergo safe and effective out-patient procedures that have only a short recovery period, allowing them to get on with life with very little downtime required.
Seeking advice about varicose veins from a qualified vascular surgeon can also help men to address more serious causes of chronic venous insufficiency. In some cases, varicose veins may indicate systemic vascular problems that could increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Men already face a higher risk of vascular disease than women, especially if they smoke or regularly consume alcohol as both activities contribute to blood vessel damage (Kühnl et al., 2016). Getting regular exercise, achieving and maintaining a target body weight, and eating a healthy diet high in antioxidants, fiber and healthy fats from plant-based foods, and low in sodium and saturated fat can all help to minimize the risk of vascular problems.
Men who have concerns about varicose veins are recommended to consult a qualified and experienced vascular surgeon for advice on treatment options.