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Laser treatment zaps away look of varicose veins

By Connie Prater

Knight Ridder Newspapers

People who've shied away from wearing swimsuits at the beach or passed on that hip miniskirt look because of varicose veins may be encouraged by results of a study recently released.

Two-year follow-up exams on patients who've undergone laser therapy to zap away those spidery, purplish lumps on their legs show the laser method may be better than traditional surgery.

Doctors who treated 97 patients by using lasers to close the veins found that the blood vessels returned in only 6 percent of the cases -- compared ith 10 percent or more of patients who have the veins surgically removed or use other types of treatments.

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The study is important because laser treatment costs less, about $1,500 to $3,000 per leg, and leaves minimal scarring. An important factor, since improving the appearance of the legs is sometimes the patient's ultimate goal.

The doctors are focusing on the latest technology in the effort to treat diseases from inside the vascular highway -- the intricate systems of blood vessels that run the length of everyone's body. Thus, instead of having to open someone up surgically, they use lasers or chemicals administered through the veins.

Millions of Americans have varicose veins. They form along the back or inside of the legs when blood collects in the tiny vessels near the surface of the legs. Gravity or age can weaken the valves that pump blood back up the leg toward the heart. Over time, the veins start to bulge and turn red or purple.

For most people, they are simply ugly and make you rethink some of your wardrobe choices. But for others, they are a source of pain, throbbing and cramping during the night and causing itching or burning of the skin on the leg and around the ankle.

Left untreated, the veins can continue to enlarge and lead to a condition that occurs when blood does not completely return to the heart from the veins.

Although in many instances it's hereditary, the condition is common in pregnant women, overweight men and women, and those who are on their feet and stationary for long periods of time.

Surgical treatment typically leaves scars a couple of inches in length from several incisions made in the leg. The veins are tied shut and completely removed from the leg.

The laser treatment can be done in a doctor's office under local anesthesia. It involves injecting an anesthetic into the patient's leg, then guiding a catheter and microscopic laser through a small incision in the skin. The laser delivers heat along the inside walls of the veins to close them.

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