New procedure trims treatment time for varicose veins – KTUU.com

Varicose veins afflict as many as 40 million Americans. (Kyle Stalder/KTUU-DT)

Varicose veins afflict as many as 40 million Americans. (Kyle Stalder/KTUU-DT)

by Lori Tipton
Tuesday, August 18, 2009

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — As many as 40 million Americans suffer from severe varicose veins, which cause pain, swelling and disfigurement of the legs.

Until recently, patients seeking treatment for varicose veins underwent what is called stripping. But there is a new catheter device that uses heat to treat varicose veins.

It’s a minimally invasive procedure and patients are able to walk out right after the surgery.

For years, Connie Stafford has suffered from severe varicose veins.

"They ache, they get tired, they itch, they’re very unsightly, very ugly," she said.

Varicose veins develop because of faulty valves in the veins or because of weakened vein walls.

Dr. Robert Artwohl, a surgeon at the Alaska Vein Clinic (Kyle Stalder/KTUU-DT)

Dr. Robert Artwohl, a surgeon at the Alaska Vein Clinic (Kyle Stalder/KTUU-DT)

"Patients develop leaky valves, so they stand up and when the blood tries to flow down because of gravity, they don’t have a normal valve to stop the backward flow of blood, so blood is continuously leaking down the saphenous vein and causing the veins to distend," said Dr. Robert Artwohl, a surgeon at the Alaska Vein Clinic.

Stafford came to the clinic seeking a new type of treatment called closure for her varicose veins.

"I’m just hoping that the ugliness, the color and the bulging and the aching goes away," she said.

"The closure procedure eliminates the saphenous vein from circulation," Artwohl said. "This procedure replaces the saphenous vein stripping that we used to do for varicose veins."

A catheter is threaded into the varicose vein to cut off circulation. (Courtesy image)

A catheter is threaded into the varicose vein to cut off circulation. (Courtesy image)

A catheter is inserted into the saphenous vein, which runs from the ankle to the groin.

The closure procedure uses radiofrequency, or laser, heat placed directly into the wall of the vein, causing it to contract and collapse, cutting off the source of blood.

"Like when you put bacon on a griddle, the proteins in the bacon contract and get smaller, same thing happens here in the vein," Artwohl said.

Once the diseased vein is closed, healthy veins take over and normal blood flow returns to the legs, allowing the swelling, pain and discoloration to improve.

The procedure is about as invasive as getting your blood drawn and it only takes about 20 minutes to treat each leg.

"The nice thing about this procedure is that number one, we do it right here in the office, they don’t have to go in the operating room, they don’t have to prepare for surgery the night before," Artwohl said.

Plus, patients do not have to have anesthesia. They actually stay awake during the entire procedure, but are given relaxant.

"If they’re relaxed, their adrenaline won’t surge and their veins won’t go into spasm, and it makes it easier for us to get into the vein," Artwohl said.

And they are able to walk out right after their procedure.

"We’ve had people have this procedure done on Friday and Saturday morning they’ve flown down to Park City (Utah) and they’re skiing, so there’s really very little downtime for this procedure," Artwohl said.

Most health insurance providers and Medicaid do cover this procedure for patients diagnosed with severe varicose veins.

Contact Lori Tipton at ltipton@ktuu.com

New procedure trims treatment time for varicose veins – KTUU.com | Alaska’s news and information source |

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