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Zap Varicose Veins

New therapies make removing them quick and (almost) painless.

Yes, we hate them — those ugly blue veins in the legs that sometimes make us wish that we could wear long pants every day. But varicose veins are often more than a cosmetic problem.

Why We Should Care


Spider veins and larger varicosities (enlarged or swollen veins) can also lead to leg pain, sores, ulcers, night cramps, ankle swelling and leg heaviness that patients do not know to attribute to their varicose veins, says Joshua Fox, MD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology.

At least we’re not suffering alone. Fox says an estimated 75 percent of all adult women are affected by varicose veins.

Why We Avoided Treatment


In the past, many women opted to avoid treatment because of the pain, side effects and scarring associated with traditional varicose vein removal. Until recently, the primary option was a surgical procedure called “stripping and ligation,” during which the affected veins would be removed invasively. This approach requires general anesthesia and often leads to scarring and an eventual return of varicosities, says Dr. Fox.

And Now the Good News


Two new approaches — sclerotherapy and laser therapy — are now available. “These breakthroughs are a boon to those who have shunned traditional surgery for varicose veins,” says Dr. Fox. “But they also have created new questions in the minds of patients about how each process works and which procedures are appropriate for their specific conditions.”

Sclerotherapy involves injecting a solution into the veins, causing them to collapse, turn to scar tissue and eventually become absorbed by the body.

“Sclerotherapy eliminates the need for invasive surgery and the resulting scars and recovery time,” Dr. Fox explains. “However, it usually takes up to six months for the sclerosed veins to disappear completely.”

While sclerotherapy has been used for a number of years, the procedure was known to be painful, particularly during the injection process. However, newer solutions, anesthetic techniques and instrumentation have made the procedures almost pain-free, he says.

Laser treatment involves the application of laser light, which changes to heat when it enters the skin. The newest laser treatment uses an endoscopic laser, which results in little or no scarring or recurrence of the varicosities. The relief from pain or tenderness occurs usually in one day. The laser is used to shrink and seal the vein wall.

Very strong bursts of light transmitted by the laser cause the vein to slowly fade and disappear. Again, the veins are normally reabsorbed by the body within six months and disappear.

“Patients seeking treatment for varicose veins should consult with a dermatologist or dermatological surgeon,” says Dr. Fox. “These procedures often require multiple office visits, utilizing highly specialized equipment and supplies, and sometimes involving a combination of therapies and approaches.”

Kathy Sena is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to MetroKids.

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