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Vein Awareness

The past decade has been marked with new advances in the treatment of varicose veins and spider veins. These advances in leg health have followed with new technologies that have been developed for diagnosis and treatment. Ultrasound technology and laser and radiofrequency energy technology have made treatment easier on the patient and the doctor. The patient can now be treated as an outpatient under local anesthesia and can return to normal activity immediately after surgery. These advances have eliminated the need for hospital treatment and have resulted in patient-friendly care. The treatments are nearly painless and are done in the office in 30 minutes.

 
Frequently, we find that patients and even practicing physicians are still not aware of the new treatment breakthroughs. In fact, a new subspecialty of medicine called the American Board of Venous and Lymphatic Disease was started in 2008. The specialized physicians are trained and qualified to help patients understand the significance of their vein problems and how they can be treated.

 
Vein problems are considered both health issues and cosmetic issues. They are medically significant because they can cause symptoms and disability. Over 25 million people in the United States suffer from the effects of venous disease, making it the most prevalent vascular disease affecting both men and women in the United States. Many patients have assumed that leg pain is just part of aging. Sometimes the pain is so severe it limits their lifestyle, but they have learned to live with it and tolerate the symptoms. But leg pain is not normal. It has been rewarding to meet these patients and be able to change their lifestyles and help them live better.
Leg pain and symptoms such as aching and heaviness with prolonged standing and daily activity are not normal. Other symptoms include fatigue, cramps, itching, and burning. Some patients experience restless legs associated with the inability to sleep well because of an uncomfortable feeling in the legs. These are all symptoms of broken veins which can be treated easily.

 
The symptoms that at first may be mild can progress with time and become more severe. They start when major veins in the legs malfunction because of either heredity or lifestyle, such as pregnancies, prolonged standing and sitting, or injuries to the legs. As a result, the veins that should direct the blood flow to the heart with valves that prevent backflow begin to leak and blood starts slowing down in the legs, moving away from the heart. This causes pooling and pressure in the leg veins, creating distension and dilation. Varicose veins and spider veins are related to increased pressure in the veins. As the disease progresses, the patient notices swelling and skin changes associated with the increased pressure in the veins. The adverse changes can also lead to blood clots in the legs known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This condition can be life threatening, resulting in pulmonary embolus.

 
These problems are all treatable and preventable, especially if the condition is caught in the early stage of disease development. Trained vein specialists are experts at diagnosis and in the treatment of all vein diseases, which can be done within the ambulatory clinic setting in 15 to 30 minutes. In fact, most of the procedures are covered by insurance.

 
One of the new advances is called thermal ablation, which treats the broken vein with heat and stops the abnormal flow of blood in the veins. This results in a normal blood flow in the leg and better leg health and improvement of symptoms. This treatment can be done with local anesthesia, and the patient can walk out after treatment and return to normal activity the next day. One of my patients whom we treated could stand and walk for only 10 minutes at a time before treatment because of the pain and discomfort. After treatment, the patient was able to be fully active all day without discomfort. I have had patients tell me that their first night of sleep in years was when we treated their varicose veins and the restless leg symptoms resolved immediately. In fact, patient satisfaction is high at about 95%, which is very rewarding to me.

 
The cosmetic results are also significant. Patients get an immediate symptomatic improvement from treating just one major nonfunctioning vein. The patient can then have follow-up treatment for smaller, less symptomatic but cosmetically worrisome veins. These patients want to treat the smaller spider veins so they can wear dresses and show off their legs. This treatment can be done easily with minimal discomfort, and a return to work right away. Sclerotherapy is the main procedure for spider veins and is very effective.
I would encourage patients with these conditions to seek out a vein specialist to improve their lives and to have healthy legs again.