If you suffer from vein disease and think your only choices are enduring unsightly varicose or spider veins or undergoing painful surgery, you may be surprised that medical advances have opened the door to less invasive treatments. A decade ago, the only option to treat varicose veins was vein stripping surgery requiring general anesthesia and lengthy recovery. Today, many doctors offer less invasive procedures. Thomas Wright, MD, a board certified phlebolgist (a physician specializing in the treatment of varicose veins), credits laser and ultrasound technology with expanding available treatments.
“People need to understand that they are living in the midst of a major revolution in the treatment of vein disease,” he says.
“Ultrasound has changed vein disease more than anything in the past 20 years because we can actually see the disease without cutting people.”Dr Wright has been performing laser treatments for varicose veins since 2006 at Laser Lipo and Veins in St Louis He says laser treatments require only local anesthesia, leave fewer scars, and patients can return to work the same day. “Hospitalization and its cost have been eliminated because this procedure can easily be done in a physician’s office,” he says. Endovenous laser treatments are successful in 98 percent of patients with only a 7 percent recurrence rate after two years, according to VeinDirectory.org, a web site with an advisory board of notable vein treatment physicians. Barry Summers, MD, is chairman of the Department of Surgery at Chicago’s St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital and also practices at Northside Vein Care in Chicago. He performs laser procedures to treat the main vein that causes varicose veins. For smaller varicose vein clusters, Dr. Summers says one minimally-invasive option is microphlebectomy, in which a special hook is used to remove veins through multiple small incisions. The outpatient procedure requires only local anesthesia.
Unlike varicose veins, which can lead to ulcers and blood clots, spider veins don’t typically cause serious medical problems, although they contribute to symptoms. Dr. Wright says, there are non-invasive treatments available for people who want to eliminate spider veins. Foam sclerotherapy, in which physicians use tiny needles to inject a chemical into surface veins, is a common treatment for spider veins. Dr. Wright likens sclerotherapy to acupuncture, and says the procedure requires no anesthesia and patients can resume normal activity in two to three days. Topical lasers can also treat spider veins. Dr. Wright says he has observed high success rates among patients he’s treated for varicose and spider veins. Still, he says, it’s ideal to choose a doctor who is committed to a comprehensive, long-term treatment plan. “Even after a laser procedure, it’s prudent to have regular checkups, to make sure everything healed up as perfectly as possible,” he says.