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Varicose vein fix: How to glue leaky leg valves

HOUSTON – Millions of Americans suffer from varicose veins, twisted or enlarged veins that you can see just under the surface of the skin.

Childbirth and weight gain are just two of the causes, but doctors now have a new, minimally invasive treatment available that’s bringing fast relief.

Bulging, discolored lower legs. Varicose veins are a nuisance for so many of us.

Lula Nolley said, “It was achy and burning and swollen and bruised. It was bruised. He said the bruise wouldn’t go away.”

For Nolley, varicose veins from her knees down made it tough to keep up with great-granddaughter Skylar.

Dr. Alain Tanbe, a vascular surgeon at Mercy Hospital, treats the cause of varicose veins, venous reflux, and leaky valves in leg veins.

Tanbe said “these valves, when they don’t close as they are supposed to … blood is flowing up and leaking back down.”

Doctors have traditionally used lasers to close the area. Now they have a new option called VenaSeal. It’s delivered by a tiny catheter to the veins next to the knee.

“It’s a medical glue so once we have the glue in and delivered, and this is done under ultrasound, we press down and the vein will shut down along the length of it. The blood will reroute into the main vein,” Tanbe explained.

When the blood is blocked from the leaky vein, it’s forced through healthy veins, improving blood flow. Nolley felt the difference right away.

She said: “I’m good. I’m really good. I don’t feel no pulling. You know how you used to get charlie horses? I used to get them all the time. Now I don’t.”

No bruises, no pain.

Making it easier to keep up with the little ones in her life.

The procedure takes about 30 minutes, and patients leave the office with just a bandage covering the tiny pinhole in their knee. Tanbe says the varicose vein symptoms, like burning and aching, start to ease within a day or two. VenaSeal is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and some private insurance companies.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Field and Supervising Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

What you should know:

Background: Varicose veins are swollen, twisted veins that you can see just under the surface of the skin. These veins usually occur in the legs, but they also can form in other parts of the body. Sometimes varicose veins cause pain, blood clots, skin ulcers or other problems. If this happens, your doctor may recommend one or more medical procedures. Some people choose to have these procedures to improve the way their veins look or to relieve pain. Weak or damaged valves in the veins can cause varicose veins. After your arteries and capillaries deliver oxygen-rich blood to your body, your veins return the blood to your heart. The veins in your legs must work against gravity to do this. One-way valves inside the veins open to let blood flow through, and then they shut to keep blood from flowing backward. If the valves are weak or damaged, blood can back up and pool in your veins. This causes the veins to swell. Weak vein walls may cause weak valves. Normally, the walls of the veins are elastic (stretchy). If these walls become weak, they lose their normal elasticity.

Treatment: One varicose vein treatment, also known as endovenous ablation, uses radiofrequency or laser energy to cauterize and close varicose veins in the legs. Ultrasound is used to visualize the varicose vein. A laser fiber or radiofrequency electrode is advanced to the desired location within the vein through an IV. Local anesthesia is injected to collapse the vein around the laser and act as insulation for the heat of the radiofrequency or laser energy. Laser or radiofrequency energy is then applied, heating the vessel and causing it to close. Following the procedure, the faulty vein will shrink and “scar down.” A follow-up ultrasound examination is essential in order to assess the treated vein and to check for adverse outcomes. Within one week, the target vein should be successfully closed. Following the procedure, you will need to wear a gradient compression stocking to help reduce bruising and tenderness, and minimize the rare possibility that blood clots may form.

New technology: Alain Tanbe, MD, a vascular surgeon at Mercy Hospital explains another option: “With the last generation VenaSeal, instead of heating and burning the vein, we inject glue inside the vein. It’s a medical glue that helps close the vein. This is done under ultrasound. We press on the vein and the vein will shut down along the length of it and the blood will reroute into the main vein.” The procedure typically takes 20 to 30 minutes.