- 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,
- 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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