Immediate, Non-Surgical Relief Available for Varicose Veins
Purple and blue, bulging veins; heavy, aching legs. Sound familiar? Thirty-one-year-old Katie Valdez can relate. She was diagnosed with venous insufficiency, which means the veins in her legs were not functioning properly, causing large, painful varicose veins.
“I was at an appointment with my cardiologist for another reason, and I mentioned my legs were swollen and felt really heavy,” Valdez shared.
Her cardiologist confirmed her diagnosis with an ultrasound and recommended wearing compression stockings, avoiding sitting or standing for long periods of time, wearing supportive shoes and elevating her legs. However, when Valdez became pregnant with her second child, her varicose veins worsened, and she was referred to Wassef Karrowni, MD, St. Luke’s interventional and structural cardiologist, who also specializes in treatment for varicose veins.
“During pregnancy it’s harder for blood to return to the heart, because the weight of the baby compresses the veins,” explained Dr. Karrowni. “The same is true for someone who is overweight or obese. In the early stages of venous insufficiency, we start with conservative treatment, which helps with pain and swelling. For more advanced cases, with large, bulging veins or open wounds, we have other treatments available.”
Outpatient Treatment for Varicose Veins
After Valdez delivered her baby, Dr. Karrowni performed three procedures, all of which are done in the office, at St. Luke’s Heart Care Clinic.
“Depending on the patient’s symptoms, anatomy and reason for treating varicose veins, we use different procedures,” Dr. Karrowni said. “For Ms. Valdez, we performed radiofrequency ablation for a long trunk vein. Radiofrequency ablation uses heat to close off a vein that is refluxing or insufficient. She also had a lot of big branches, which we removed by making small cuts near the veins, a procedure called phlebectomy. Others we injected with a medication that causes the veins to close and disappear. This is called sclerotherapy.”
Outside of cosmetic reasons, Dr. Karrowni said most insurance companies cover treatment for varicose veins. The procedures typically take less than an hour, cause very little discomfort, and the patient is able to immediately return to their normal activities.
“It wasn’t that painful,” Valdez reported. “You’re awake the whole time, and it’s a really fast recovery. I was at work the next day.”
Risk Factors & Symptoms of Venous Insufficiency
Dr. Karrowni said venous insufficiency can occur in people of all ages. One risk factor is genetics, but others include multiple pregnancies, carrying excess weight, professions that involve extended periods of standing, such as nursing, teaching and farming, as well as office jobs where people sit for a long time.
Symptoms of venous insufficiency include:
- Large bulging veins in the legs
- Leg swelling and pain that is worse at the end of the day
- Leg cramps, usually at night
- Feeling as if your legs are heavy
- Restless legs/inability to keep legs still
Left untreated, varicose veins can cause the skin to develop a brown, leather-like texture, and lead to sores or wounds that are easily infected or take a long time to heal. Additionally, individuals with varicose veins are at higher risk for developing blood clots (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT), which can dislodge and block blood flow to the lungs (a pulmonary embolism).
Valdez is amazed and pleased at the difference varicose vein treatment made. She’s resumed her workouts at the gym, spends time boating and traveling with her husband and family, and can more easily play with her kids. She hopes her story will encourage others to seek treatment for varicose veins.
“My legs feel lighter, they’re less swollen and purple, I have less pain, and I no longer have big bulges,” she said. “When I was pregnant, I couldn’t even show my legs. I wore compression socks because they were so painful. Don’t feel like your legs will look and feel like this forever, because there are solutions. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”
If you suffer from leg pain or any of the symptoms described above, you may have venous insufficiency. Talk to your primary care provider or contact St. Luke’s Heart Care Clinic at (319) 364-7101 to talk to a cardiologist about treatment and relief.