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The Problem With Men (And Their Veins)

23/04/2013 17:06 BST | Updated 22/06/2013 10:12 BST
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Anyone can suffer from thread or varicose veins- nearly half of women and a quarter of men will experience symptoms in their lives. The difference between the sexes, though, is that women seek out treatment. Men typically don't: or at least not until it's too late.

At my practice, Courthouse Clinics, we've seen a rise in the number of people seeking consultation, with peak numbers in recent years. But 96% of our patients are female, leaving men in a very slim minority.

Thread and varicose veins are considered to be a cosmetic problem, classified as such by the NHS. It can be seen as vain and effeminate to fix a problem because it looks unattractive; this is largely why men are put off consultation. But approximately 1% of the U.K. population will see the problem of varicose veins escalate into problematic leg ulcers. Early treatment can prevent this- there needs to be more done to encourage the endemic of men who refuse to admit their varicose veins are a potential problem.

Venous insufficiency is often attributed to poor circulation, but when blood pools into leg veins, causing dull aching or pain, symptoms can escalate into a feeling of "heaviness" with cramping- normally at night- and itchiness. At Courthouse Clinics we also find that men report an urge to move or shake legs periodically to ease blood flow.

Ulcers arise from valve incompetence and calf muscle insufficiency, leading to stasis and hypertension. Circulation then changes, and tissues in the surrounding areas can become affected. The disease is typically cyclical, as when patients become less mobile in age the problem worsens and can become recurrent.

22% of patients with leg ulcers will have arterial disease, around 9% will have rheumatoid arthritis, and up to 5% diabetes, according to research from the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network. Proper vascular health is incredibly important, for both sexes.

Symptoms might indicate simple thread veins. They're the spidery-looking veins that are much less serious. Thread and varicose veins often present at the same time, though, so it's important that in treating thread veins an ultrasound scan occurs to confirm or exclude venous incompetence. Thread veins might not be progressive like varicose veins, but since spider veins can mask a deeper problem it pays to get looked at properly. Most good clinics offer a consultation for this, and at Courthouse we focus on the hand-held Doppler, which uses cutting-edge technology to look at deeper veins to assess your vascular health.

Varicose veins can be treated with sclerotherapy, laser and electrolysis- but for thread veins, the gold-star standard of treatment is the simple microsclerotherapy. The treatment involves using tiny needles to inject problem veins with a 'sclerosant', destroying the vein and making the walls of the vein stick together. Most commonly used is STD, a mild detergent. It destroys the lining to the small blood vessels; the body treats it as damaged tissue and reabsorbs it.

Whether your veins turn out to be thread or varicose, it's important to get checked out. The symptoms we brush off as being a normal part of ageing could be causing pain or discomfort that is easily fixable- or might reveal a deeper problem that will only benefit hugely from early detection. This is as is important for men as it is women.