Laser Treatments Help Varicose Vein Sufferers
Friday, February 18, 2011
By Kelly Roberson, Des Moines Register Q magazine
Mark Pearson, 52, has his wife, Kim, to thank for sleeping at night: After 25 years of ever-increasing pain and bothersome restless leg syndrome, Kim finally made an appointment for Mark to have his varicose veins checked out at the Vein Center at Iowa Heart.
There, after an exam, doctors recommended that Mark, who lives in Churdan, have laser vein removal on both legs. Now, for the first time in nearly three decades, Mark is able to sleep all night long and has much more energy. "My legs feel 20 years younger," he said.
Varicose veins add more than just an unsightly bump to legs; dealing with them is important for overall health, too. There can be not only discoloration but pain and a wide set of associated physical issues - even ulceration in the legs, said Dr. Robert Zeff, Medical Director at the Vein Center at Iowa Heart.
Varicose veins happen when the valves in the veins that regulate blood flow toward the heart fail, causing the blood to flow back toward the feet. That in turn causes pressure in the veins and fluid seeps out.
Then, smaller branches of veins become enlarged, turning into varicose veins. There's no one set cause for varicose veins, but a number of factors that influence their occurrence.
- Heredity. If your parents have varicose veins, your likelihood of developing them increases, said Dr. Zeff.
- Occupation. All those jobs that require you to stand on your feet for long periods of time also may lead to varicose veins.
- Multiple pregnancies. Women who have had more than one child also have an increased risk.
- Obesity. Being overweight may also cause varicose veins.
Treating varicose veins early can reduce the need for surgery. Wearing support stockings, losing weight, elevating the legs so the ankle is higher than the knee and knee is higher than the groin, taking anti-inflammatories, and exercising regularly - which helps the legs pump blood back to the heart - can all help. But as varicose veins worsen - with increased pain, heaviness, fatigue, cramps, even a tingling and burning sensation - then doctors may recommend surgically treating the veins.
Not so long ago, doctors had to literally strip the vein out to remove the varicose vein; it was invasive, painful and required general anesthetic. Fortunately, technological advances have made that treatment virtually obsolete. Now, doctors rely on laser oblation, also known as Endovenous Laser Therapy (EVLT). During EVLT - which requires only local anesthetic - a doctor threads a laser fiber with a tiny catheter into the damaged area of the vein. That enables him to see exactly what's going on inside, Zeff said.
Then a laser is used to shrink, collapse and seal shut the bad part of the vein. The patient's leg is then wrapped and they walk out of the doctor's office. "In most cases, they go back to work the next day," Zeff said. "In a few cases, they have pain for a few days."
A month after the surgery, the patient returns for a procedure, called ambulatory phlebectomy; their leg is injected with a local anesthetic and using tiny holes, the large surface varicose veins are removed. Then, the patient's legs need to be elevated for a few days between frequent walking. The success rate for the surgery - 96 percent - means that very few of the patients who have laser oblation have to come back to treat that same vein. "If they have it done on a Friday, they can be back to work on Monday," Zeff said.
Most varicose vein removal is covered by insurance, and the prognosis for people who treat it earlier - even with conservative therapies - fare better. "If you ignore it until you have ulcerations and the skin changes, getting rid of them is a lot harder," Dr. Zeff said.
About MercyOne Iowa Heart Vein Center
MercyOne Iowa Heart Vein Center is part of a multidisciplinary approach to overall cardiovascular health and disease prevention by the physicians and staff of the MercyOne Iowa Heart Center. Since its founding as a one-physician practice in 1970, MercyOne Iowa Heart Center's focus has remained the same: To provide quality, leading-edge, compassionate care to its patients and their families. With nearly 60 cardiologists and surgeons serving 11 locations across the state including offices at Mercy Medical Center, Iowa Methodist Medical Center and Iowa Lutheran Hospital as well as a clinic in West Des Moines. Dedication to being the best has helped Iowa Heart Center grow to one of the premiere cardiology, vascular and cardiovascular surgery practices in the nation.
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