Healthbeat Report: Getting a leg up on veins

May 6, 2011 5:05:34 AM PDT
The exact cause of spider and varicose veins is not known. An estimated 60 percent of all women and men suffer from some form of vein disorder. But erasing the unsightly veins is getting easier.

If you were hoping those unwanted leg veins might have faded over the winter, forget it. They only get worse with time.

Karen Special, 57, waited for years to do something about a painful and ugly varicose vein. It ached and throbbed, limiting her activities and wardrobe. Like many others she worried that fixing it would be worse than living with it.

"I didn't want to go through the big surgery of the stripping my mom had gone through," said Special.

Stripping, where the vein is pulled from the leg is still available, but newer, less extreme techniques are now here. They are out-patient procedures done under local anesthesia. The troublesome vein is destroyed through a tiny incision using either a laser or radio frequency heat. The endovenous laser process fires laser pulses into the defective vein, causing it to collapse and go away.

"This is by far and away the quickest, easiest one with the least amount of complications and the one that is tolerated by patients," said Dr. Rick Hershberger, vascular surgeon, Loyola University Medical Center.

Doctors explain varicose veins are faulty and not essential. The blood just finds another route to the heart using the remaining network of vessels.

Special had the laser treatment last October at Loyola University Medical Center.

"I'm happy that I had it done. It's much better," she told ABC7.

Spider veins may not be as painful as varicose veins but they are enough to have a lot of women covering up. The tiny veins are mostly an eye sore and can start showing up in men and women in their early 20s. The laser is considered a good option for those who can't stand needles or have veins too small to inject.

"The yag laser or pulsed dye laser is where it's at. These specifically target hemoglobin in the vessels and can eradicate the veins in a number of treatments," said Dr. Rebecca Tung, dermatological surgeon, Loyola University Medical Center.

But when it comes to a quick fix sclerotherapy is still 'it.' Considered the gold standard for spider veins, sclerotherpy involves injecting veins with a solution that irritates the lining causing them to collapse.

The big buzz right now, though, is something called Asclera, a recently FDA approved version.

"The first thing that patients notice is this stuff just doesn't hurt," said Dr. Jeffrey Hsu, The Dermatology Institute of DuPage Medical Group.

One of the biggest complaints about scelrotherpy is that the solution can cause a burning sensation. Asclera promises less pain and can also work on some varicose veins. It's being used at the Dermatology Institute in Naperville. The solution is pumped with air and that is considered key to its success.

"You can actually manipulate Asclera in such a way that you can inject veins the biggest you got and smallest you got," said Dr. Hsu.

Georgiann Kenny went with Asclera and was surprised.

"I didn't feel anything going in the veins. To see them disappearing, it's kinda neat," said Kenny.

Sometimes the legs look worse before they get better because of redness and bruising after the procedures. Also, spider vein removal may take more than one treatment at a cost of $300-700. Insurance likely will not cover it. Varicose vein removal can cost thousands but may be covered by insurance if considered a medical problem.

The Dermatology Institute of DuPage Medical Group
2155 Citygate Ln.

Loyola University Medical Center

American Academy of Dermatology

American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery

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