Vein Ablation: a solution for unsightly varicose veins

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3-minute read

Varicose veins can develop when veins have damaged or weak walls or valves. Usually occurring in the legs just under the skin, varicose veins appear twisted or swollen and can cause discomfort. Vein ablation is a minimally invasive treatment for varicose veins.

What causes varicose veins?

Veins contain one-way valves that regulate blood flow to the heart. When these valves don’t work properly or the vein walls are weak, blood can pool and sometimes flow backward. This can lead to veins becoming large and distorted.

Veins can become damaged when blood pressure is too high. Several factors can lead to varicose veins:

  • Age
  • Being overweight
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Pregnancy
  • Sitting or standing for long periods on a regular basis

Varicose veins can also run in families.

Who is a candidate for vein ablation?

Vein ablation, or endovenous ablation, is an option for many patients with varicose veins. Symptoms of varicose veins include:

  • Achiness in the legs
  • A heavy feeling in the legs and feet
  • Bluish, bulging veins
  • Changes in skin color around the veins
  • Itching or burning around the affected veins
  • Leg cramps at night
  • Swelling in the legs

Sometimes, these symptoms can cause you to change your daily activities. That’s because discomfort can get worse from either sitting or being on your feet for long periods, but it gets better when you put your feet up or lie down. Getting treatment as early as possible can prevent varicose veins from getting worse or developing complications, such as bleeding and sores.

Your provider might do a duplex ultrasound (DUS) to help diagnose varicose veins. This noninvasive imaging test uses sound waves to evaluate how well blood is flowing through your veins.

Ablation catheters don’t travel easily through blood vessels with many twists and turns, so the procedure is usually performed on the veins supplying varicose veins with blood. These include the great saphenous vein extending from the groin to the ankle as well as other saphenous veins.

What happens during and after a vein ablation?

Vein ablation uses laser or radiofrequency energy to cauterize, or burn, abnormal veins. This closes the vein and causes it to shrink, and the blood circulates through other healthier veins. The procedure, which is most often performed on an outpatient basis, improves venous circulation and improves symptoms.

During vein ablation, your provider might spread a numbing cream over the varicose veins to reduce pain. After sterilizing the area, the provider makes a very small incision in the skin and inserts a thin tube called a catheter. Using ultrasound guidance, your provider places the catheter in the faulty vein and injects the vein with a local anesthetic, causing it to collapse. Next, a radiofrequency electrode inserted through the catheter delivers heat to the vein. This procedure to treat varicose veins usually takes an hour or less.

You’ll feel slight pokes and some pressure when the catheter is inserted, but you shouldn’t experience significant pain or discomfort. After an ablation, you’ll need to wear a compression stocking, which reduces side effects such as bruising and tenderness. It also lowers the risk of blood clots, which is a rare complication.

Within one week of the procedure, the treated vein should successfully close. Your provider will likely order a follow-up ultrasound to ensure the ablation was successful.

Most patients can return to their normal activities immediately following the procedure. The only exceptions are air travel or other activities that involve prolonged sitting, such as long car trips. Your provider will also encourage you to stay active while avoiding strenuous activity for a period.

In some cases, ablation procedures successfully treat the varicose vein, but smaller surrounding veins require additional treatments, such as:

  • Phlebectomy to remove smaller varicose veins just under the skin
  • Sclerotherapy, which seals off varicose veins using liquid or foam chemicals

What are the benefits of vein ablation?

Vein ablation offers many benefits over surgical vein treatments, including:

  • A lower risk of complications
  • Less pain and much easier recovery
  • No scars due to very small incisions

In addition, treated veins are usually effectively invisible by ultrasound within 12 months of the procedure.

The specialists at Reid Health are dedicated to improving your vein health. Call the Reid Vein Center at (765) 962-1337.

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