Approximately 1 in 5 adult Americans suffer from superficial venous insufficiency, the disease that causes varicose veins and other symptoms that can impact your quality of life.
Surgery (called ‘ligation & stripping’) is the traditional treatment, but it can be quite painful and often has a long recovery time. It is performed in a hospital, involves general anesthesia, leaves a scar, and has a fairly high recurrence rate (on average 10-25%).
There is also a non-surgical treatment method that has less pain and bruising than the traditional vein stripping procedure, with minimal-to-no downtime or scarring in which a laser fiber is fired inside and along the length of your faulty, varicose vein. The laser energy heats the blood, which then damages the vein wall, shrinking them closed so that blood can no longer flow through.
There are many veins in the leg. After treatment, the blood in the faulty veins will be diverted to normal veins with functional valves. The resulting increase in circulation significantly relieves symptoms and improves appearance.
The venous system is the part of the circulatory system that returns deoxygenated blood through veins back to the heart and through the lungs to be recirculated with oxygen-rich blood. When a disease occurs in the veins, it is called venous disease. Varicose veins, or enlarged and twisted rope-like veins that appear near the surface of the skin, are a result of venous disease. They are most commonly found in the legs and ankles because standing and sitting without movement increase pressure in the lower extremities, and are a result of faulty valves higher up in the leg. In normally functioning veins, tiny one-way valves open as blood flows toward the heart and close to prevent blood from flowing backward.
When these valves malfunction, blood pools in the veins. Over time the increased pressure can cause additional valves to fail, resulting in a buildup of pressure that weakens their walls and causes them to bulge. This venous reflux, or venous insufficiency, leads to the development of varicose veins and spider veins.
Varicose veins affect an estimated 40 percent of women and 25 percent of men. Factors leading to varicose veins include heredity, gender, pregnancy, age and other factors. Some contributors may speed up the development of this disease and make the veins worse, including prolonged standing, obesity, hormone levels and physical trauma.
In addition to the visual appearance of the bulging veins, many patients may experience one or more of the following leg symptoms: pain (an aching or cramping feeling); heaviness/tiredness; burning or tingling sensations; swelling/throbbing or tender areas around the veins.
If treatment is delayed, symptoms may progress onward to more serious complications, including inflammation (phlebitis), blood clots (e.g., DVT), hyperpigmentation, ankle sores or skin ulcers .
Laser vein treatment eliminates unsightly varicose veins with no hospital stay or general anesthesia, minimal-to-no scarring, no lengthy recovery and minimal-to-no side effects. In about an hour, you can be free from bulging, twisted varicose veins and back to enjoying your everyday activities. The procedure is safe, fast, and effective with more than a 95% success rate, and is typically covered by insurance when medically necessary. Here’s what you can expect to experience when you undergo the laser vein treatment:
• Your doctor uses ultrasound to map out your vein.
• Local anesthetic is applied.
• A thin laser fiber is inserted through a tiny entry point.
• Laser energy is delivered to seal the faulty vein.
• Walking immediately after the procedure is encouraged. Normal daily activity can be resumed; just avoid rigorous activities such as gym workouts.
• There may be minor soreness and bruising 2–5 days after the procedure. Any discomfort can be treated with over-the-counter, non-aspirin pain relievers as necessary.
Side effects of the laser vein procedure include mild bruising and tenderness that usually disappear within a few weeks, and a delayed tightness within the first week after treatment. This “pulling” sensation confirms that the veins were destroyed. Discomfort is usually managed with over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
When used to treat medical symptoms such as swelling and poor circulation, laser vein treatment is usually reimbursed by health insurance, including Medicare, but you and your doctor should contact your insurer to determine coverage.
Thomas Canto, M.D., F.A.C.S., is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a general surgeon at Harrington Hospital.