It seems unbelievable that in the age of stem cells and lab-grown organs, many doctors still treat severe varicose veins with circa-1900s vein stripping. Luckily, two new vascular innovations—endovenous laser treatment (EVLT) and the radio frequency (RF) catheter—now make for flawless legs in the span of a lunch break.
Approved by the FDA in 2002 for use in this context, EVLT is a minimally invasive procedure that requires only local anesthesia and guarantees a 90-plus percent success rate in delaying the reemergence of varicose veins. A small catheter is inserted into the vein to place a laser fiber, which is then fired, damaging the vein wall and causing it to close. While a lingering dull burning sensation is often reported for a week or two following treatment, and light bruising is common, patients quickly return to daily activities.
On the other hand, patients working with an EVLT rival, the RF catheter, report very little postsurgery pain or bruising whatsoever. In this procedure, a small catheter is inserted into the diseased vein. As the catheter is slowly removed, it emits RF energy to heat up the collagen in the vein’s wall to seal it, allowing blood to redirect to healthy veins. Dr. Michael Eickerman, a vascular surgeon at Puget Sound Vein Center, raves about the Covidien ClosureFast catheter—approved by the FDA in 2006—which has about a 93 percent three-year preventive success rate.
As superficial venous reflux is considered a serious medical condition, insurance usually covers both treatments (although to varying degrees), making it easier to stay off the operating table.