Alternative Fix For Varicose Veins

There is good news for millions of Americans who suffer from varicose veins. They may benefit from the latest advances in laser surgery.

Dr. Robert Min told The Early Show that his procedure is a minimally invasive alternative to surgery, the current standard of care for varicose veins.

Swollen, raised and often twisted and bulging varicose veins along the back or inside of the leg afflict about half of women age 50 or older in the United States and about 10 to 15 percent of men. In addition to being unsightly, varicose veins may produce discomfort, swelling, leg muscle fatigue, throbbing or cramping at night and itching or burning of the skin on the leg and around the ankle.

Min says the varicose veins continue to enlarge and worsen over time. When they become severe, varicose veins can lead to a condition known as chronic venous insufficiency, which occurs when blood does not completely return to the heart from the veins. It can cause leg swelling or alteration of the skin.

The laser therapy seals painful, swollen veins shut by delivering laser energy to the blood vessel lining. explains Min. In the longest follow-up study of laser therapy for varicose veins to date, varicose veins recurred in only 6 percent of patients treated with the laser compared to 10 percent or more of patients who undergo surgery and other procedures.

The most common treatment for varicose veins that caused symptoms has been surgical ligation and stripping, which the veins are tied shut and completely removed from the leg. During the surgical procedure, which requires general anesthesia, surgeons make multiple incisions, often leaving scars. Frequently in this procedure, doctors cannot avoid interfering with small branches of sensory nerves, causing some areas of skin to feel numb or to have a burning sensation. Surgery also does not completely eliminate varicose veins in up to 10 percent of patients.

Less invasive procedures that inject a chemical solution (sclerotherapy) or use radiofrequency energy (radiofrequency ablation) to seal veins shut have been developed in recent years.

However, the rate of recurrence of varicose veins after these treatments is as high as 50 percent in patients treated with sclerotherapy and up to 10 percent in patients undergoing radiofrequency ablation. With sclerotherapy, the chemical solution may cause side effects, such as inflammation or pigmentation along the length of the treated vein.

In addition to its low recurrence rate, laser treatment has other benefits. It is a procedure that can be done in a physician's office under local anesthesia with lidocaine, the same anesthetic used by dentists. It also requires only a small incision and has a short recovery period. Patients are encouraged to go back to their normal activities right away.

Min developed the laser treatment and has performed more than 500 treatments on varicose saphenous veins, the most common site of significant varicose disease. The procedure involves injecting a local anesthetic under ultrasound guidance, inserting a catheter and laser fiber through a small skin incision and continuously delivering laser energy along the entire length of the blood vessel wall.

The treatment costs about $2,000 - about three times less than surgery - and is covered by some insurance companies. It is not yet widely available nationwide, there are about a dozen or so cities where you can currently find it.