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Published on January 11, 2016

woman's legs

Get a Leg Up on Looking and Feeling Better

Deep into January, when we’re as far from shorts and swimsuits as you can get, your legs might be the last thing on your mind. Yet if varicose veins are causing you pain and embarrassment, now is the time to do something about it.

An office procedure with a tiny incision can not only resolve the look of bulging, roping veins – it can relieve the pain and discomfort that might send you limping toward your easy chair at the end of the day.

“Typical symptoms of varicose veins are achiness, tiredness, swelling, itchiness and restlessness in the legs,” said Matthew Casey, MD, Interventional Radiologist. “Most people want to treat their varicose veins to feel better, but there are cosmetic benefits, too.”

Understanding problem veins

It’s not uncommon to confuse varicose veins with “spider veins” – those tiny, purplish veins that are most often painless yet unsightly.

However, varicose veins are the result of valve failure in a major vein – usually the great saphenous vein. This failed valve causes blood to back up into vein tributaries, which swell and become visible. Even if veins aren’t visible, symptoms are still a painful reminder that problem veins exist.

Avera Medical Group Image Guided Therapy has minimally invasive treatment for both varicose and spider veins, as well as other venous conditions.

In decades past, problem veins were surgically “stripped,” resulting in a hospital stay and long recovery. Today, a minimally invasive procedure known as endovenous thermal ablation allows for an even better result through a small incision and no general anesthetic.

Minimally invasive solutions

“We go in with a small radiofrequency device that requires an incision that’s no larger than 3 to 4 mm,” Casey said. “We close off the vein by using heat to damage the lining, causing it to scar shut.” There’s only a local anesthetic, so you can drive or even go back to work after the procedure. Patients with multiple problem veins might need multiple treatments.

With the unhealthy, dysfunctional vein closed off, the body’s healthy veins take over and eliminate symptoms. “The success rate of our closings is over 95 percent,” Casey said.

Varicose veins can happen as young as 16 or as old as 90 to both men and women. Multiple pregnancies, standing occupations and family history are the biggest risk factors. “You might notice them when you’re younger, but they don’t become a problem until you’re older,” Casey added.

Compression stockings can make you feel better, but don’t fix the underlying problem. “Some insurance companies require you to wear compression stockings for three months before they will cover the treatment,” Casey said.

Treatment for the tiny, purplish spider veins requires no incision. The procedure is called sclerotherapy, and it involves injecting a chemical that damages the lining of the veins, closing them down. “Once they don’t have blood in them, they are not visible,” Casey said. A few people might have pain associated with spider veins, but for the most part, this procedure is cosmetic.

If you have symptoms of varicose veins, there’s no reason to put off treatment. You will only feel more comfortable and energized. Plus, you can avoid painful or sometimes serious complications, for example, a wound that won’t heal, Casey said.

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