Treatment for varicose veins has advanced since the days of surgical stripping. A procedure which required a hospital stay and lengthy recovery period. If you have been researching treatment options for varicose veins, you may have heard of laser and wondered how it works. Is it similar to laser hair removal? Does it hurt? And most of all, is laser for varicose veins safe? Here is everything you need to know.
How does laser treatment actually work?
A laser is a highly focused beam of light. When treating varicose veins, a laser is placed at the tip of the catheter and is inserted into the damaged vein. The intense heat damages the varicose vein which makes scar tissue form. This scar tissue closes the vein, thereby sealing the vein and halting blood flow. Over time the varicose vein fades and blood is rerouted through other healthy blood vessels.
Read more about varicose vein symptoms and causes: Varicose Veins Explained.
What type of laser treatment is available for varicose veins?
The most common laser treatment is Endovenous Laser Ablation Therapy (EVLA), here are a few of the key benefits:
- The treatment is minimally invasive meaning you can walk out of the clinic and back to work.
- EVLA treatment only takes approximately 20 minutes.
- High success rate – 98% of varicose veins will not return.
- One small incision means there is minimal pain and discomfort.
Read more about the benefits here: 10 Key Facts About EVLA.
Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) is another commonly used treatment option for varicose veins. RFA involves inserting a catheter into the vein then delivering a source of heat, closing off the vein and stopping the flow of blood. During RFA treatment, radiofrequency energy is administered in 20-second bursts directly into the vein. Rather than clotting the blood, the radiofrequency energy targets the collagen in the vein wall, causing it to shrink and prevent blood from circulating through that vein. The blood is rerouted through other healthy blood vessels.
You may have also heard of Sclerotherapy. Sclerotherapy is a procedure for treating small varicose veins and spider veins. It focuses on closing damaged, veins by injecting them with a sclerosing agent while guided in place using ultrasound imagery. Generally, multiple treatments of Sclerotherapy are required. The procedure is also considered minimally invasive and can be conducted by a cosmetic surgeon.
Differences between EVLA and RFA
Although the differences between the two procedures are minimal, a vascular specialist will need to decide which one will best treat your varicose veins.For example, EVLA is generally better suited to patients whose veins are larger in diameter, or if blood clots are present. For other patients, RFA may be the better choice because it tends to be slightly less uncomfortable with less bruising.
How do I know if EVLA is right for me?
If you are dealing with painful varicose veins, cramping, swelling, or restless leg syndrome. Chances are EVLA is right for you. EVLA focuses on the larger, deeper veins — the smaller, surface veins are better suited for sclerotherapy. In some cases, you may need a combination of both. Your vascular specialist will provide a treatment plan for your specific needs, unfortunately, varicose vein treatment isn’t one-size-fits-all.
Not sure if you have varicose veins or spider veins? Try our vein self-assessment tool.
Is laser treatment painful?
Before your procedure, a local anaesthetic will be applied on your leg. This is a really important part of the procedure. Using a pump or manual syringe your doctor will inject very dilute local anaesthetic around the laser so that when it’s switched on there’s no pain. It is therefore rare that you actually feel any pain when the laser procedure is being performed.
Most people who suffer from varicose veins will have both veins which bend or zigzag and those which are straight. Laser treatment can only be used on the straight veins, as it is difficult to insert the laser fibre in a bent vein. In this case, often sclerotherapy is used to treat the side branches.
Is Laser for Varicose Veins Safe?
Laser treatment, specifically EVLA, is fundamentally very safe. There are risks with any medical procedure, and with EVLA bruising or a burn to the skin are possible, as well as complications leading to a blood clot or deep vein thrombosis.
How to prepare for laser varicose vein treatment
The vascular specialist who will carry out the procedure will likely discuss the following with you:
- You may be advised to stop taking blood-thinning medication; including aspirin or anti-inflammatory medications, for a specified period of time.
- Compression stockings will be required, at The Vein Institute, these are provided to you free-of-charge and use some of the best medical-grade compression in the world.
- At The Vein Institute, we encourage you to bring a book, magazine or your phone, as these can be used throughout the treatment. We can also play requested music over the speakers during the procedure.
- You should plan to walk for 30–40 minutes immediately after the procedure and daily thereafter for around two weeks.
- The procedure is carried out on an outpatient basis using local anaesthetic injected around the veins.
What happens post-treatment?
Bruising is not uncommon after laser treatment, but an interesting symptom that you may suffer from is a feeling that you have a rope in your leg! This is because the treated vein is healing before the body naturally dissolves it. The feeling usually starts a week after treatment before resolving within the fortnight. It can often be treated with Nurofen.
Seek expert advice
The doctors at The Vein Institute specialise in varicose vein treatment. We offer patients a comprehensive treatment program to treat varicose veins, with non-surgical laser treatment techniques. The benefits of laser treatment to patients are:
- Walk-in walk-out treatment
- 98% success rate
- Extremely effective
- Can be performed at a clinic (no hospitalisation)
- No general anaesthetic
- Medicare rebates apply
- No downtime or time away from work