By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Many people have varicose veins and most people think they’re just unsightly. However, they can also lead to serious problems and getting rid of them isn’t always easy.

Now, there’s an easier solution to make your legs look and feel dramatically better.

Kathy Stewart had varicose veins for 30 years, ever since her son was born.

“They didn’t bother me. They were unsightly. When I did wear shorts, I usually had a tan, or they were long enough to cover the ones that seemed to be the most unsightly,” Stewart said.

She believes her desk job and heredity are to blame.

“Both my mom and her sisters had varicose veins,” Stewart said.

She didn’t feel any burning, throbbing, cramping or heaviness in her legs. Then, just a slight bump caused some bleeding and some alarm.

“When I experienced the bleeding part, was what scared me, because they had never had anything like that,” Stewart said. “It was like a little spout that just sprayed everywhere.”

That’s when she decided to do something. In her mother’s day, there was only one procedure.

“She called it stripping. They just took them out,” Stewart said.

But, that didn’t work for everyone. So, doctors developed other techniques.

“Now, we can use ultrasound to verify precisely where the vein failure is occurring,” Allegheny General Hospital Vascular Surgeon Dr. Satish Muluk said.

The veins carry blood from the legs back to the heart and lungs. The primary problem with twisted, bulging varicose veins is that the one-way valves that keep blood flowing toward the heart, and against gravity, fail.

If the issue is with one of the two main blood vessels that run up the leg, doctors can do an office-based, same-day procedure called radiofrequency ablation. This has been an option just over the last decade. A thin catheter is inserted into the vein.

“The catheter then emits a high-energy beam, either radiofrequency or laser energy, and that causes the vein to scar down,” Dr. Muluk said.

A few weeks later, the large bothersome veins at the surface can be removed through small incisions.

“Bruising, rare instances of mild bleeding, swelling, and local tenderness, but really there are no major risks to the procedure,” Dr. Muluk said.

Of course, this is after you’ve tried the non-surgical treatments of compression stockings and leg elevation.

“I’ll talk to a lot of patients who tell me their legs feel dramatically better after vein surgery, and they didn’t even realize the reason their legs were bothering them was the varicose veins,” Dr. Muluk said.

Since varicose veins can range from being just a cosmetic issue to quite serious, when do you seek treatment? Watch your skin for irritation, itchiness, and darkening. The risk is a skin ulcer, and once that appears, it can be very hard to treat.

“Even when they have mild skin changes, they really should seek treatment,” Dr. Muluk said.

Kathy had the ablation last year, followed by removal of the superficial veins.

“No pain at all. I had heard about stinging, burning, deep throbbing pain. There wasn’t anything,” Stewart said.

Now, the varicose veins are gone, and she feels much more confident and carefree.


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