Many people consider varicose veins a cosmetic problem, but if they develop into chronic vein insufficiency, they can cause debilitating pain and other complications. Fortunately, there are several new minimally invasive treatment options, such as “radiofrequency” ablation, which uses heat to collapse and seal off diseased veins so they shrink and disappear.
“It’s a total revelation for people who ... don’t realize they can do something about it,” says Dr. Mark Adelman of NYU Langone Medical Center.
Spry: How do you know if nagging leg pain is something to worry about?
Adelman: People discount it as something that’s just part of getting older, but if you have that water bag feeling, that sensation that your legs are heavier than your body, it could be CVI. What happens is that gravity is pushing the blood down towards your calves and ankles.
Spry: What are the risk factors for CVI?
Adelman: It tends to run in families, but sometimes there’s an inciting event or it’s the result of a lifestyle. A career where you’re on your feet all the time is a risk factor — like nurses, teachers or athletes. Pregnancy is also a risk factor because it puts a lot of stress on the veins, as does generally being overweight.
Spry: How easy is radiofrequency ablation?
Adelman: It just takes a five-minute exam and a noninvasive ultrasound to diagnose CVI. Then the procedure is done in-office in about an hour, with no incisions and a local anesthetic. It’s not a dangerous procedure — I’ve treated 80- and 90-year-old patients who take blood thinners in my office. I do prefer to do only one leg per visit, because there’s a small risk of blood clots with the procedure.