A quick, less painful treatment for varicose veins

August 11, 2010 3:14:31 PM PDT
There is a new procedure to get rid of varicose veins that is quicker and less painful than before.

A throbbing pain, swelling around the ankles, and heavy feeling legs are all symptoms of varicose veins in the legs. It's an inherited condition and it used to be treated by an uncomfortable technique called vein stripping. The new modern treatment is called radiofrequency ablation and it takes less time that older treatments and causes less pain.

Christine Butler, 44 years old, had her varicose veins treated. Before treatment, she had bulging blue veins on her right leg.

"My mom had varicose veins. She had them stripped, that's what you did back then," said Butler.

In the '70s and 80's, general surgery and anesthesia meant weeks of recovery to treat varicose veins. Now, a three inch long gold wire heated Butler's veins shut. It closed them forever.

"This can be done with either radiofreq [radiofrequency ablation] or laser. Both are effective, both have excellent long term results," said Dr. Mark Adelman of the New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center.

Dr. Adelman uses radio waves to heat the inside of the vein to 120 degrees centigrade, which is over the boiling point of water. He first gave Butler some Novocain shots. These shots are not comfortable, but they're the only pain she'll feel. He then slipped a needle of a large caliber into the vein, through which he passes the gold wrapped wire.

From the top to the bottom of the vein, he heated up the gold coil, which sealed the vein shut.

The procedure is done as an out patient. Afterwards, Butler wore an elastic stocking. Otherwise, there is no downtime or post-op pain.

After treatment, there is some risk of complications. Other veins pop up about three percent of the time, but can again be treated. Temporary damage to a skin nerve near the vein is also a risk. About one percent of patients develop dangerous blood clots. Dr. Adelman checks there are none after the procedure.

"I think it went very well, and I felt the pin pricks, but I was told that would happen and its pretty easy, pretty good," Butler said.

The vein ablation takes about an hour. As with Butler, patients go home immediately and can resume normal activities almost immediately. If the veins are removed because they are causing symptoms, Dr. Adelman says that the procedure is covered by all insurance, including Medicare.