A Patient's Guide to Endovenous Laser Therapy

Approximately 40 to 50 percent of adults in the United States suffer from spider veins or varicose veins.

Varicose veins are large, ropy veins that usually appear in the legs. Varicosities are usually caused by faulty valves inside the veins that prevent blood from flowing forward (to the heart). The blood collects in the vein causing it to back up and pool in the veins, leading to vein swelling.

Spider veins are much smaller than varicose veins and they look like tiny spiders or webs. Like their larger cousins, spider veins can be caused by faulty valves in the veins, but they can also be caused by sun exposure and injuries.

Regardless of how varicose and spider veins form, many people find them unsightly and want to hide or remove them. If your vein problems are more cosmetic, vein specialists will often recommend you wear compression stockings and make a few lifestyle changes to prevent the vein problems from increasing. If your vein problems are more serious, there are several treatment options, and the treatments have varying measures of success depending on the type or severity of your vein problem.

Vein treatments include:

  • Sclerotherapy
  • Microsclerotherapy
  • Laser treatment
  • Endovenous ablation therapy
  • Ambulatory phlebectomy
  • Endoscopic vein surgery
  • Vein stripping and ligation

A closer look at endovenous laser therapy

Endovenous laser therapy is one of the most popular methods used for treating varicose and spider veins. Endovenous laser therapy uses laser light to heat and shrink spider and varicose veins. The therapy also closes off the faulty vein so that blood does not flow through it, preventing the vein from swelling again. Endovenous laser therapy is considered minimally invasive because the doctor does not need to cut open the leg, as he would with some other forms of therapy.

How endovenous laser therapy works

The procedure is typically performed by a vascular surgeon or vein specialist. The procedure does not require you to be sedated, but the specialist might administer a topical pain killer to numb the area.

The technician accesses the problem veins by making a small incision in the skin over one of the larger veins in your leg, and feeding the laser fiber through the incision and into the vein. He then uses ultrasound technology to view the veins and watch as he feeds the fiber to the target location. Once the fiber reaches its location, the specialist emits a burst of light to shrink the vein. Once the procedure is complete, the specialist removes the fiber and bandages the incision.

The standard laser procedure can last up to two hours and most people are able to resume their regular activities once the procedure is over. However, you might have to wear a bandage or compression stocking for up to three weeks after.

Risks of complications of endovenous laser therapy

The risks and complications range from minor to serious, although the serious complications are not as common.

Minor complications include:

  • Bruising
  • Temporary hardening of the tissue
  • A sensation of tightness in your leg
  • Fluid and blood collecting under the skin
  • Swelling in the veins

More serious complications can include:

  • Burns
  • Blood clots in the leg, or clots that move to the lungs
  • Nerve injury

Once the Endovenous procedure is complete, the specialist might also do a simple laser treatment to address veins that are too small for the endovenous treatment. Simple laser treatment is considered non-invasive because the technician applies the therapy to the surface of the skin, not the interior of the vein. The risks for simple laser treatment are similar to those for endovenous therapy.

Reviewed on February 8, 2017

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