Health Team

New alternative to surgery for varicose veins

Posted September 14, 2012

Up to half of Americans are affected by vein problems in the legs, such as varicose veins or even hard to heal sores. Not only are the veins unsightly, but they can be painful. However, there's a new alternative to surgery to treat the problem.

44-year-old Beth Leach and 77-year-old Neill McLeod both suffered vein failure problems in their legs. Valves in the veins fail to pump blood back up to the heart, so it pools in the legs. For Leach, it meant varicose veins with aching and swelling.

"I mean, by the end of the day, you literally feel like you're dragging around blocks of lead," Leach said.

McLeod also had skin cancer surgery on a shin and ankle. Poor circulation meant the wounds were slow to heal.

"Years ago we would do somewhat of a medieval kind of procedure where we would make a small incision," said Dr. David Powell, general surgeon with Rex Healthcare. Doctors would go in and put a plastic catheter into a vein, and then take the vein out.

Leach had that surgery 12 years ago, followed by five weeks of staying off her feet, only for the problem to return in other veins. Recently, both women came to Powell for a newer, less invasive option called radio frequency vein ablation. A small catheter enters the problem vein through a small incision. A 3-centimeter radio frequency coil burns each section of the vein.

"We don't have to remove the vein because the vein is shut down," Powell said.

After two procedures, McLeod's wounds improved.

"They're gone now, it took a long time," McLeod said.

Leach says the recovery was much quicker than with the old surgery.

"This time, I was up and running again in the afternoon," Leach said.

McLeod was eager to get back to golfing.

"This happened on Friday and I could pitch and putt on Sunday," McLeod said.


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