Varicose vein laser surgery nearly painless

When Denise Colvin, a senior English teacher at Tuttle High School, was pregnant with her first child at the age of 38, she experienced something completely foreign to her. When she looked down at her right leg one day around the fourth month of her pregnancy, she could see bumpy, strange looking veins bulging just beneath her skin.

“They were a real shock. I didn’t know what it was when I was pregnant and looked down and saw all these bulges … and the pain and feeling heavy,” Colvin said. “My mother didn’t have them. I think my grandmother on my dad’s side had them.”

She had varicose veins, a typical side effect of pregnancy and of aging. Varicose veins occur when blood flow through veins is obstructed by faulty valves, causing excessive pressure on veins that normally are under little pressure. When these veins begin to bulge, they can become painful and restrict the leg’s function.

Varicose veins are sometimes considered a woman’s problem but in fact, while 40 percent of women will experience varicose veins, 25 percent of men will, too.

Colvin knew that after she had her last child, she wanted to have her varicose veins treated. For her, varicose veins were more than just a simple annoyance of pregnancy that would likely go away. They lingered on, even after she gave birth. As a teacher, on her feet most of the workday, Colvin’s varicose veins hurt so much she wore compression leg wear to help ease the pain.

At worst, varicose veins can cause thrombosis, ulceration and in some cases the veins can burst and bleed profusely.

Colvin, now 43, admits that her varicose veins were ugly and that she felt self conscious about them. “Since I’m a little older and having children, I thought I don’t want my legs to look like road maps,” she said.

But it was the pain, she said, that led her to visit Dr. Dominic Pedulla, an interventional cardiologist who specializes in vein work.

Pedulla is one of a group of doctors across the U.S. pioneering the use of gold-tipped lasers in the treatment of varicose veins.

Treating varicose veins used to be considered a traumatic procedure. After putting the patients, who were usually women, to sleep, doctors would make incisions along her bulging veins and pull entire veins out. The recovery period was painful and long, Pedulla said.

But thanks to advances in laser technology, doctors are now able to zap bad veins through a minimally invasive procedure. During the procedure, the patient’s skin is numbed where the introducer or catheter is inserted. Through the catheter, a tiny, gold-tipped laser is inserted.

Pedulla demonstrated the procedure using Colvin as his patient. She’s had the same procedure done before: The first two were for her right leg, one on the upper leg and one on the lower. She has had the upper left leg treated and on June 2, she had her lower left leg treated.

Though her vein wasn’t yet protruding as prominently as the previous ones had, she knew it would, over time, and opted to have it taken care of at the first notice of bulging.

During the procedure, Pedulla guided the catheter and laser with ultrasound technology. When his laser tip found its way to the deep vein that has become defective, the laser destroyed it. The tip, known as the VenaCure EVLT gold tipped fiber, Pedulla said, helps insure that only the intended parts of the vein are affected by the laser. The gold makes the laser more accurate, he said.

Once the deep bulging vein is destroyed, the surrounding veins that were also affected begin to shrink.

Colvin walked out of Pedulla’s office having experienced no pain and only a little discomfort. Previous generations undergoing varicose vein surgery would likely have been confined to bed to recover for several days.

After two weeks, Colvin returned to Pedulla’s office, when he injected the remnants of the surface bulges with a chemical that shrivels them.

Insurance often covers varicose vein procedures such as the laser surgery Pedulla performs in his Oklahoma City office. Colvin also recommended the procedure to a 17-year-old student of hers whose problem with varicose veins was affecting her ability to run on the school’s cross country track team.

“If you’re suffering from pain, there is something out there that will help you,” Colvin said.
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