Lifewatch: Varicose veins

Reported by Claire Hosmann - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

(WECT) - Half of Americans over the age of 50 have varicose veins which can be embarrassing, ugly, or even so painful it's hard to walk.

Fixing painful varicose veins used to mean invasive surgery called vein stripping or laser treatments.  When patient Carol Albin learned about a less invasive option she was ready to try it.

"There was an area that was really big, and red, and I called it an explosion," said Carol.

Doctors inject the carbon dioxide foam deep into the diseased vein and track it through ultrasound.  The foam pushes blood out of the way, eventually closing up the vein.

"It is a chemical toxic agent to the wall of the vein, so basically what you're doing is you're irritating the inner lining of the vein," said vascular surgeon Dr. Rajagopalan Ravi.

Doctors said using foam means better long-term results, especially for patients who have already had vein procedures.

"It is actually more effective because you might need less treatment and a smaller quantity of the medicine, thereby less complications," said Dr. Ravi.

Soon after her procedure, Carol was walking comfortably.

"After the surgery I stayed off the treadmill for just a couple of weeks and then I went back to it. The surgery made a big difference in the pain because it made the pain go away," said Carol.

The procedure generally takes 15-20 minutes and is covered by most medical insurance if it's performed for medical reasons, not cosmetic.

For more information, please contact:
Arizona Heart Institute Vein Center
(602) 707-3511

BACKGROUND: Varicose veins are more common in women and affect 50 percent of people over the age of 50, according to the National Institutes of Health. The condition is marked by enlarged veins that are swollen and raised above the surface of the skin. This happens because valves in the veins that allow blood to flow toward the heart stop working properly. Varicose veins are often found on the backs of the calves or inside of the leg. Spider veins and hemorrhoids are types of varicose veins. Pregnancy can increase a woman's chance of developing varicose veins since the volume of blood in her body increases while the flow of blood from the legs to the pelvis decreases. This can cause enlargement of the veins in the legs, and sometimes, the formation of varicose veins.

CAUSES AND PREVENTION: Several factors can affect a person's chances of developing varicose veins. Age can influence your susceptibility. The condition most often occurs in people ages 30 to 70 and risk increases with age. Women are more likely to develop the veins because of hormonal changes, and a family history also increases your odds. Other risk factors include being obese and standing for long periods of time. While many of these risk factors are unavoidable, the Mayo Clinic says you can help prevent varicose veins by exercising, watching your weight, eating a high-fiber and low-salt diet, avoiding high heels and tight hosiery, elevating your legs and changing your sitting or standing position regularly.

TREATMENT: The first line of treatment for varicose veins is wearing compression stockings. The stockings are worn all day to squeeze the legs, helping veins and leg muscles circulate blood more efficiently. Surgical treatments for varicose veins include vein stripping, ambulatory phlebectomy and endoscopic vein surgery, all of which involve removing the problem veins. In catheter-assisted procedures, doctors insert a thin tube into the problem vein and heat the tip of the tube (catheter). As the catheter is pulled it, the heat destroys and collapses the vein. Laser surgery is an incisionless procedure to destroy varicose veins, as is sclerotherapy. In sclerotherapy, which is for small- and medium-sized varicose veins, doctors inject the veins with a solution that irritates and thereby scars and closes them.

Sclerotherapy is an option for patients who have already undergone procedures to fix varicose veins. "Almost about 25 to 30 percent of the patients who come to us are people who've had some other treatment before," Rajagopalan Ravi, M.D., a vascular surgeon at the Arizona Heart Institute in Phoenix, told Ivanhoe.

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