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Lasers Zap Varicose Veins

Minimally invasive technique has minimal recovery time, too

WEDNESDAY, April 12, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Laser energy may provide a safe, non-surgical means of eliminating varicose veins, researchers report.

Duke University Medical Center vascular surgeons using the minimally invasive procedure say most patients are up and walking within hours after treatment. Traditional varicose vein surgery, in which the treated veins are "stripped" out of the leg, requires about six weeks of recovery.

In this new technique, a catheter is guided through the saphenous vein (the large leg vein) to deliver laser energy to the targeted area. The laser energy causes the affected vein to collapse, preventing blood from backing up and causing the bulges characteristic of varicose veins. After the laser treatment, blood from the sealed vein is diverted to other veins.

"The whole procedure is performed on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia," Dr. Cynthia Shortell, chief of vascular surgery at Duke, said in a prepared statement. "After the procedure, which usually takes about 15 to 30 minutes, patients are asked to begin walking, which helps stimulate blood vessels and alleviate any of the fear of walking they may have after the procedure," she added.

"In addition to being up and about much sooner, there is little to no scarring on the leg as a result of the new procedure. Any discomfort afterwards can be treated by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents, and most patients are back at work within a week," Shortell said.

An estimated 100 million Americans suffer some degree of varicose veins and about 1 million have the "stripping" procedure each year.

"Up to 25 percent of women, and 15 percent of men, will develop varicose veins," Shortell said. "While there are many causes for the condition, varicose veins occur most frequently in the obese, in women after pregnancy, in the elderly and those who stand for long periods of time. There also appears to be a genetic component as well," she said.

More information

The U.S. National Women's Health Information Center has more about varicose veins.

SOURCE: Duke University, news release, March 20, 2006
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