Millions of adults suffer from varicose veins, whether a purely cosmetic annoyance or one that involves a degree of discomfort and pain. Nearly 55% of women and 45% of men have some variety of varicose veins, caused by a breakdown in the vein wall. For most, varicose veins resemble cords that appear just beneath the skin, bulging out on the thighs, the calves, or the inside of the leg. Varicose veins can show as the same color as the skin, or they can have a deep purple or blue hue that makes them stand out more prominently.
For some varicose veins are simply unattractive, and for others, pain, swelling, and heaviness goes hand in hand with the vein disorder. When varicose veins start interrupting normal activities, treatment for the vein issue may come down to surgery or a non-invasive alternative. Recent research suggests that the non-surgical options, including surface laser treatments, work just as well if not better than surgery when at-home remedies no longer offer a reduction in the uncomfortable symptoms linked to varicose veins. Here’s how surgery, sclerotherapy, and laser treatment compare.
Varicose Vein Surgery
Traditionally, the most common solution to mend varicose veins was surgery which involved ligation and stripping. With varicose vein surgery, veins that are causing bulging and pooled blood are tied off and ultimately removed from the leg. This requires small incisions into the skin, although the circulation of blood is not affected. Individuals undergo general anesthesia in the operating room with varicose vein surgery, leading to more potential side effects that alternative treatments. While varicose vein surgery has the potential to permanently solve vein wall issues, recent research touts the ability of patients to receive the same success without the need to go under the knife.
Your Best Bet: Endovenous Laser Treatment
In a study involving 214 patients who underwent varicose vein treatment, 97% of indivdiuals who were selected for a non-invasive procedure known as Endovenous Laser Treatment, or EVLT/EVLA, showed no signs of recurring varicose vein issues in the treatment area one year after treatment. EVLT is a method used to treat deep veins, known as saphenous veins, which uses a small laser to close off affected veins. Only local anesthesia is used and no cutting is necessary to perform the treatment. Given its non-invasive nature, EVLT treatment is becoming more prominent in treating varicose veins for a significant number of patients.
An Alternative with Sclerotherapy
Varicose veins may also be treated with foam sclerotherapy as an alternative to EVLT or surgical treatment. For this procedure, foam is injected into the problem vein which ultimately causes vein walls to swell and eventually seal shut. Blood flow is stopped as a result, and the vein fades when scar tissue is formed. In the same study of 214 individuals, foam sclerotherapy worked well to remove the vein issue in 51% of patients, one year post-treatment.
Eddie Chaloner, a vascular surgeon specialized in varicose veins, explains that foam sclerotherapy can be used to treat big varicose veins, but it is not as effective as EVLT when used in this way. Sometimes this technique leaves a skin mark that takes several months to subside. While not the ideal treatment for deep vein issues, foam sclerotherapy may be effective in treating smaller varicose veins that may remain after treatment with EVLT.
The research points to a clear shift in varicose vein treatments toward a less invasive, more productive procedure encompassed by EVLT. Not only does the treatment carry with it few side effects, especially compared to invasive surgery, EVLT continues to show promise in the permanent resolution of varicose veins for some patients that requires a shorter recovery time than alternative treatment methods for some individuals.
Varicose veins do not have to be a permanent problem that wreaks havoc on the overall look of your legs and causes consistent discomfort. Instead, non-invasive treatment options are widely available to correct the underlying vein issue. When at-home remedies like wearing compression stocking or elevating the legs do little to ease the pain or appearance of varicose veins, seeking professional help is often the next best step. Each individual considering varicose vein treatment should take into account the risks and advantages of each type of treatment available, and make a decision on how to move forward that best aligns with their lifestyle and overall goals for treatment.