New Treatment Ends
Varicose Veins With Radiowaves
By Nancy Deutsch
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new technique uses radiofrequency energy to help shrivel varicose veins -- the unsightly, painful bulges that appear on the legs when blood pools in the veins, researchers report.
People who have undergone the office-based procedure can return to normal activities almost immediately, rather than after a 3-week recuperation period that typically follows vein stripping, or surgical removal of the veins, according to Dr. Mark Marzano, an interventional radiologist with Endovascular Associates in Barrington, Illinois. Marzano presented the study findings at the 25th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Society of Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiology, held in San Diego, California.
The procedure also leaves fewer, less noticeable scars than vein stripping. ``It's a more attractive alternative,'' said Marzano.
In the new technique, a small incision is made behind the knee and a catheter (a hollow flexible tube) is threaded into the vein. A radiofrequency probe attached to the catheter releases energy and heat inside the vein, causing it to shrink and close off.
Since varicose veins are caused by a backflow of blood in the saphenous vein (the largest vein in the leg) and smaller branch veins, the closure should remedy the leg fatigue, pain, and itchiness that frequently plague patients.
Larger veins should no longer be a problem, although existing spider veins (tiny veins close to the skin surface) will not necessarily disappear. Phlebectomy, a procedure to remove the branch veins, can be done at the same time as the radiology technique.
Marzano and colleagues conducted a study of 222 patients at 33 centers who underwent the procedure. The technique was found to be 95% effective (209 of 219 veins were closed). And six months after the procedure, all the veins remained closed.
In the study, six limbs developed skin burns, but this problem is potentially avoidable when a salt-water solution is inserted between the vein and the skin, Marzano explained. There is also a slight risk of blood clots. Patients are now checked for potential clots within 72 hours of treatment.
The researchers plan to conduct more studies to find how long the effects of the procedure last. As an alternative to surgery, people with varicose veins can undergo sclerotherapy, a commonly used technique in which veins are injected with an irritant to close them off. However, with this technique, the problem may recur.
With the new technique, unlike vein stripping, there is no permanent scarring, no need for general anesthetic, no radiation and relatively little blood loss, Marzano said. ``It is far less invasive than traditional vein stripping,'' and it is comparable in price.
About 25 centers in the United States now have radiologists who perform this technique, Marzano noted. The study findings are scheduled to be published in the Journal of Vascular and Intervention Radiology in the near future.


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