Pain and discomfort are just two of the common complaints of having varicose veins. Many describe their unattractive legs as the biggest downside of the condition. Now a new laser procedure at Emory University is removing those painful and ugly veins without surgery.
Varicose veins result from the reflux of blood down the legs from non-functioning valves. Normally, one-way valves allow that blood to flow upward. But when the valves become weak and stop closing properly, the blood begins to flow in the wrong direction. The increased pressure from reflux causes blood to pool and triggers the bulging and twisting condition known as varicose veins.
Varicose veins affect one in every two people aged 50 and above, and 15 to 25 percent of all adults. Varicose veins are often inherited, and are also commonly caused by obesity and pregnancy. Both men and women develop this condition, but it is more common in women.
Surgical "vein stripping" has been the most common method of removing varicose veins, until now. "This new, minimally invasive procedure using a laser is the newest wave in varicose vein treatment," says Abbas Chamsuddin, MD, an associate professor of radiology and director of the Division of Interventional Radiology, Emory University School of Medicine. "It's a 45-minute outpatient procedure which involves no anesthesia, no scarring and minimal pain. And patients can quickly return to normal activities following treatment."
Dr. Chamsuddin and his colleagues have performed over 300 laser treatments for varicose veins at Emory.
Vein stripping usually requires general anesthesia, a hospital stay, a long recovery, as well as significant pain and bruising.
The laser treatment works by inserting a catheter into the one of the saphenous veins in the leg though a small incision. The large saphenous vein runs from the groin to the ankle and the small saphenous vein runs from the ankle to the knee along the back of the leg. A local anesthetic to minimize pain, and epinephrine (a drug used to contract blood vessels) to reduce blood loss and bruising, are injected into the leg around the site of the catheter. Using an ultrasound machine as a guide, the laser fiber is then threaded up into the vein. The laser, which is a highly concentrated beam of light, is then emitted through the fiber. It collapses and obliterates the varicose vein. Because the vein's blood flow instantly shuts down, the body then automatically reroutes the blood to other healthy veins. The faulty vein does not have to be removed from the body. Results can be seen in several days to several months.
No surrounding tissue is affected since the laser delivers light energy to the targeted vein with such precision. Patients are required to walk for 30 minutes following the procedure to prevent blood clotting. They must also wear compression hose for one week after the procedure.
"Laser treatments have proven to be 97 percent effective in clinical trials," says Dr. Chamsuddin. "Patients should not experience any reoccurrence in the veins once treated."
However, follow-up treatments may be desired to obtain optimal aesthetic results.
Most major insurance companies and Medicare cover the laser treatment. For more information on the procedure or to schedule an appointment, please contact Emory Health Connection at 404-778-7777 or 1-800-75-EMORY (1-800-753-6679).