13/03/2013 10:17 GMT | Updated 13/05/2013 06:12 BST

Men and Varicose Veins

An alarming number of men hold the opinion that varicose veins are an affliction only of the middle-aged female - and it's risking their health.

I recently wrote on popular questions about vein treatment, but am painfully aware that often the people seeking out healthcare answers are women. 40 per cent of all women will experience varicose veins at some point in their lives, but so will 25 per cent of men. And they aren't requesting medical advice soon enough.

I run a scheme that focuses on busting the myths around varicose veins by offering a free assessment for people worried about their vascular health. I'd urge wives, sisters, girlfriends, mothers and daughters to encourage the men in their lives to seek out a surgeon who can do something similar, in confidence and without stigma. It's important to seek medical attention before the condition gets to an advanced stage- but historically the men I see wait far too long before admitting their varicose veins are a problem, and this is worrying.

Veins exist as passageways to carry oxygenated blood around our bodies. Blood is pumped through veins by a combination of muscle contraction and valves. If these valves fail, though, there are problems. If valves fail to propel blood around the legs in particular, it pools in the calf area. This is what causes clustered and blue veins.

Varicose veins can be largely only cosmetic. Possibly, that is why male patients are reluctant to seek out treatment. However symptoms such as chronic aching and itching can cause great discomfort, and in some severe cases can rupture and cause ulcers in the legs.

The only treatment for varicose veins is surgery. Fortunately, this is now non-invasive and done on an out-patient basis. Vein surgery has evolved to use mostly lasers or radiofrequency to close the leaky vein by burning it. Sclerotherapy uses foam sclerosant to seal veins by burning the inside of them. 85% of vein patients are eligible for laser or radiofrequency treatment.

Men with varicose veins tend to visit their GP or a specialist at a later stage of the condition than their female counterparts- usually when the veins are very painful or when they are starting to cause skin damage. By waiting until this advanced stage, men are at a higher risk of developing the worst vein problems, including venous ulcers, and it makes treatment much more complicated.

There are many things we can do to help our vascular health, from regular exercise to healthy diet, but it's important that we treat prevention and cure with the same seriousness. Both sexes must recognize the severity of varicose veins, and men especially must be bolder in consulting a professional about what could, potentially, become a much bigger problem.