Laser Erases Varicose Veins
Procedure Costs Less, Has Fewer Side Effects, Offers Rapid Recovery
April 2, 2003 -- Fine lines, acne scars, birthmarks, tattoos -- they all disappear through the magic of lasers. Now, there's a laser treatment for varicose veins on the horizon.
The report was presented this week at the annual scientific meeting of the Society of Interventional Radiology in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Varicose veins are a common condition that aggravates many people -- blood in the leg veins begins pooling in the large vein, then gravity draws the pooled blood downward. The result? Legs that ache, hurt, become tired, and feel heavy -- all of which worsens as the day progresses. Many people find they need to sit down in the afternoon and elevate their legs just to get relief.
During the new treatment, the large leg vein -- called the saphenous vein -- is closed with the aid of the laser. That causes the smaller veins to shrink and improve in appearance. Other healthy veins take over to carry blood from the leg, re-establishing normal blood flow.
The procedure is performed with the help of ultrasound imaging. After an anesthetic is applied to the vein, the radiologist inserts a thin catheter (about the size of a spaghetti strand) into the vein. The catheter is then guided into the large vein, through the thigh. Laser energy is applied to the inside of the vein -- which heats the vein and seals it closed. There is no scar, since the surgical incision is just a nick in the skin.
In a new study -- which involved 344 patients given laser treatments for varicose veins -- each patient was followed up to two years afterward. Researchers found that, in 121 legs that had the procedure, 93% of the treated veins remained closed.
"The laser treatment is an outpatient procedure that offers many benefits including little to no pain, no general anesthesia, no scars, less cost, and rapid recovery time compared to traditional surgery," says Robert J. Min, MD, in a news release. Min is director of Cornell Vascular at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York.
"The procedure takes less than an hour and people can return to normal daily activity immediately," says Min.
By comparison, other varicose vein procedures -- like vein stripping -- fail more often than this laser technique, he adds. Those procedures also require general anesthesia, and up to two weeks recovery -- and pain, bruising, and scarring are common.
"Even when you remove the vein with surgery, there is a 10 to 25 percent chance of recurrence," says Min. "We have a less than seven percent recurrence rate for a much less invasive procedure."
The treatment costs from $2000 to $3000; surgery typically costs three times that amount. Many insurance companies cover the treatment of varicose veins, because it is not just a cosmetic procedure.