June 8, 2004 More than 80 million Americans suffer from some form of superficial venous disease, such as varicose and spider veins. Doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital are now offering these patients a relatively new treatment option called Endovenous Laser Treatment (EVLT), which is an alternative to surgical stripping (removal) of the greater saphenous vein – the main vein that runs the length of the inner leg.
During EVLT, a small laser fiber is inserted, usually through a needle stick in the skin, directly into the damaged vein. Continuous laser beams are then delivered inside the vein, which causes the vein to collapse and seal shut.
"This minimally invasive procedure offers many advantages to traditional methods of eliminating varicose veins. It is faster, less painful and leaves no scars," said Howard Chrisman, M.D., clinical vice chairman of radiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "Whereas surgical stripping is usually performed under general anesthesia, EVLT requires only local anesthesia and no hospitalization. In fact, the procedure typically takes only about thirty minutes and patients can return to their normal activities the same day." At Northwestern Memorial, the departments of dermatology, interventional radiology and vascular surgery coalesce to form a Vein Program that offers a unique multidisciplinary approach to the treatment of superficial venous disease. These unsightly veins are actually caused by an incompetent saphenous vein. Valves in the vein become weak and allow the blood to flow back and pool. The damaged vein lets the blood flow fall toward the feet rather than carrying it back to the heart. Then vessels of the vein, which are close to the skin, begin to branch out, become enlarged, and appear twisted and ropelike.
"While some people seek treatment for cosmetic improvement, many men and women seek relief from pain caused by discomfort and swelling in the legs," adds David Wrone, M.D., a dermatologist and co-director of the Vein Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Pain and swelling in the legs is frequently related to abnormal leg veins. Symptoms, often made worse by prolonged standing, include feelings of fatigue, heaviness, aching, burning, throbbing, itching, cramping, and restlessness of the legs. Severe varicose veins can compromise the nutrition of the skin and lead to eczema, inflammation or even ulceration of the lower leg.
Heredity is the number one contributing factor causing varicose and spider veins. Women are more likely to suffer from abnormal leg veins. Other predisposing factors include aging, standing occupations, obesity and leg injury.
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