Venous Disease FAQ
What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins–which afflict 10 percent to 20 percent of all adults –are swollen, twisted, blue veins that are close to the surface of the skin. Because valves in them are damaged, they hold more blood and at higher pressure than normal. That forces fluid into the surrounding tissue, making the affected leg swell and feel heavy.
Unsightly and uncomfortable, varicose leg veins can promote swelling in the ankles and feet, as well as itching of the skin. They can be found in almost any part of the leg, but are most often seen in the back of the calf or on the inside of the leg between the groin and the ankle. Left untreated, patient symptoms are likely to worsen with some possibly leading to venous ulceration.
What causes varicose veins?
The normal function of leg veins – both the deep veins in the leg and the superficial veins – is to carry blood back to the heart. During walking, for instance, the calf muscle acts as a pump, contracting veins and forcing blood back to the heart.
To prevent blood from flowing in the wrong direction, veins have numerous valves. If the valves fail (a cause of venous reflux), blood flows back into superficial veins and back down the leg. This results in veins enlarging and becoming varicose. The process can be compared to blowing air into a balloon without letting the air flow out again- the balloon swells.
To succeed, treatment must stop this reverse flow at the highest site or sites of valve failure. In the legs, veins close to the surface of the skin drain into larger veins, such as the saphenous vein, which runs up to the groin. Damaged valves in the saphenous vein are often the cause of reversed blood flow back down into the surface veins.
Why does it occur more in the legs?
Gravity is the culprit. The distance from the feet to the heart is the furthest blood has to travel in the body. Consequently, those vessels experience a great deal of pressure. If vein valves can’t handle it, the backflow of blood can cause the surface veins to become swollen and distorted.
Who is at risk for varicose veins?
Conditions contributing to varicose veins include genetics, obesity, pregnancy, hormonal changes at menopause, work or hobbies requiring extended standing and past vein diseases, such as thrombophlebitis (which is inflammation of a vein as a blood clot forms.) Women suffer from varicose veins more frequently than men, and the incidence increases to 50 percent of people over age 50.
What are the symptoms?
Varicose veins may ache, and feet and ankles may swell towards the end of the day, especially in hot weather. Varicose veins can get sore and inflamed, causing redness of the skin around them. In some cases, patients may develop venous ulcerations.
What are venous leg ulcers?
Venous ulcers are areas of the lower leg where the skin has died and exposed the flesh beneath. Ulcers can range from the size of a penny to completely encircling the leg. They are painful, odorous open wounds that weep fluid and can last for months or even years. Most leg ulcers occur when vein disease is left untreated. They are most common among older people, but they can affect individuals as young as 18 years old.
What is the short-term treatment for varicose veins?
ESES (pronounced SS) is an easy way to remember the conservative approach. It stands for Exercise Stockings Elevation and Still. Exercising, wearing compression hose, and elevating and resting the legs will not make the veins go away or necessarily prevent them from worsening because the underlying disease (venous reflux) has not been addressed. However, these varicose vein treatments may provide some symptomatic relief. Weight reduction is also helpful.
If there are inflamed areas or an infection, topical antibiotics may be prescribed. If ulcers develop, medication and dressings should be changed regularly.
Now that you know about the short-term treatment for varicose veins, how do you treat varicose veins in the long-term? There are potential, longer-term treatment alternatives for visible varicose veins, such as sclerotherapy and phlebectomy.
What is sclerotherapy?
A chemical injection, such as a saline or detergent solution, is injected into a vein, causing it to “spasm” or close up. Other veins then take over its work. This may bring only temporary success, and varicose veins frequently recur. It is most effective on smaller surface veins, less than one to two mm in diameter.
What is ambulatory phlebectomy?
As with sclerotherapy, ambulatory phlebectomy is a surgical procedure for treating surface veins in which multiple small incisions are made along a varicose vein, and it is “fished out” of the leg using surgical hooks or forceps. The procedure is done under local or regional anesthesia in an operating room or an office “procedure room.”
What is vein stripping?
If the source of the reverse blood flow is due to damaged valves in the saphenous vein, the vein may be removed by a surgical procedure known as vein stripping. Under general anesthesia, all or part of the vein is tied off and pulled out. The legs are bandaged after the surgery, but swelling and bruising may last for weeks.
When is Closure used?
Closure is used, like vein stripping, to eliminate reverse blood flow in the saphenous vein, but without physically removing the vein, and it can be performed without general anesthesia. Like other venous procedures, the Closure procedure involves risks and potential complications. Each patient should consult their doctor to determine whether or not they are a candidate for this procedure and if their condition presents any special risks. Complications reported in medical literature include numbness or tingling (paresthesia) skin burns, blood clots and temporary tenderness in the treated limb.
What is the main difference between arteries and veins?
In simplest terms, arteries pump oxygen-rich blood FROM the heart, veins return oxygen-depleted blood TO the heart.
What are the three main categories of veins?
Deep leg veins return blood directly to the heart and are in the center of the leg, near the bones. Superficial leg veins are just beneath the skin. They have less support from surrounding muscles and bones than the deep veins and may develop an area of weakness in the wall. When ballooning of the vein occurs, the vein becomes varicose. Perforator veins serve as connections between the superficial system and the deep system of leg veins.
What is superficial venous reflux?
Superficial venous reflux is a condition that develops when the valves that usually keep blood flowing out of your legs become damaged or diseased. This causes blood to pool in your legs. Common symptoms of superficial venous reflux include pain, swelling, leg heaviness and fatigue, as well as varicose veins in your legs.
What is the Closure procedure?
The Closure procedure is a minimally invasive treatment for superficial venous reflux. A thin catheter is inserted into the vein through a small opening. The catheter delivers thermal energy to the vein wall, causing it to heat, collapse and seal shut.
How does it work to treat superficial venous reflux?
Since valves can’t be repaired, the only alternative is to reroute the blood flow through healthy veins. Traditionally, this has been done by surgically removing (stripping) the troublesome vein from your leg. The Closure procedure provides a less invasive alternative to vein stripping by simply closing the problem vein instead of removing it. Once the diseased vein is closed, other healthy veins take over and empty blood from your legs.
How is the Closure procedure different from vein stripping?
During a stripping procedure, the surgeon makes an incision in your groin and ties off the vein, after which a stripper tool is threaded through the saphenous vein and used to pull the vein out of your leg through a second incision just above your calf.
In the Closure procedure, there is no need for groin surgery. Instead, the vein remains in place and is closed using a special (Closure) catheter inserted through a small puncture. This may eliminate the bruising and pain often associated with vein stripping (i.e., the pain may result from the tearing of side branch veins while the saphenous vein is pulled out). Vein stripping is usually performed in an operating room under a general anesthetic, while the Closure procedure is performed on an outpatient basis, typically using local or regional anesthesia.
Is the Closure procedure painful?
Although some people are more sensitive than others, patients generally report little pain with this vein treatment. Some have said they can feel a little heat when the catheter is energized.
Will the procedure require any anesthesia?
The Closure procedure can be performed under local, regional or general anesthesia.
How quickly after treatment can I return to normal activities?
Many patients typically return to normal activities within a day.1 For a few weeks following the treatment, your doctor may recommend a regular walking regimen and suggest that you refrain from very strenuous activities (heavy lifting, for example) or prolonged periods of standing.
(Note: These results were obtained using VNUS Closure and VNUS ClosurePlus, which are RF products with expandable extrodes)
How soon after treatment will my symptoms improve?
Most patients report a noticeable improvement in their symptoms within one to two weeks following the procedure.
Is there any scarring, bruising, or swelling after the Closure procedure?
Patients report minimal to no scarring, bruising, or swelling following the Closure procedure.
Are there any potential risks and complications associated with the Closure procedure?
As with any medical intervention, potential risks and complications exist with the Closure procedure. All patients should consult their doctors to determine if their conditions present any special risks. Your physician will review potential complications of the Closure procedure at the consultation, which can also be reviewed in the safety summary. Potential complications can include: vessel perforation, thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, phlebitis, hematoma, infection, adjacent nerve injury (tingling or numbness) and/or skin burn.
Is the Closure procedure suitable for everyone?
Only a physician call tell you if the Closure procedure is a viable vein treatment for your vein problem. Experience has shown that many patients with superficial venous reflux disease can be treated with the Closure procedure.
Is age an important consideration for the Closure procedure?
The most important step in determining whether or not the Closure procedure is appropriate for you is a complete ultrasound examination by your physician or qualified clinician. Age alone is not a factor in determining whether or not the Closure procedure is appropriate for you. The Closure procedure has been used to treat patients across a wide range of ages.
What happens to the treated vein left behind in the leg?
The vein simply becomes fibrous tissue after the vein treatment. Over time, the vein will gradually incorporate into the surrounding tissue.
Is the Closure treatment covered by my insurance?
Many insurance companies are paying for the Closure procedure in part or in full. Most insurance companies determine coverage for all treatments, including the Closure procedure, based on medical necessity. The VNUS® Closure procedure has positive coverage policies with most major health insurers. Your physician can discuss your insurance coverage further at the time of consultation.
Whether you are ready to get your vein treatment consultation or you still have questions or concerns, we are happy to help. Contact us today!
- Lurie F, Creton D, Eklof B, Kabnick LS, Kistner RL, Pichot O, et al. Prospective randomized study of endovenous radiofrequency obliteration (Closure) versus ligation and stripping in a selected patient population (EVOLVES study). J Vasc Surg 2003;38:207-14.