HOUSTON - A new laser system recently approved by the FDA is treating varicose veins and promising patients a faster recovery and better results.
Varicose veins plague some 30 percent of women and 15 percent of men. They're not just unsightly. They can cause pain, swelling and discomfort.
Judy Dahms is a ball of energy. But a few years ago, varicose veins, especially in her right leg, started slowing her down.
"I noticed from the knee down I started getting a couple of those 'crunchily' things and I thought, 'Oh God, not me.' I do a lot of things and it makes me feel like my legs are just not working right," Dahms said. "I can't wear the shoes I want to wear, the heaviness in the legs, just discomfort."
So she came to see Dr. Eric Peden, chief of vascular surgery at the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center at The Methodist Hospital.
It's one of the few centers in the country using the VenaCure 1470 system recently cleared by the FDA.
A gold-tipped laser fiber is inserted into the varicose vein through a catheter using a different wavelength of light that is absorbed by the water in the veins rather than the blood further reducing the risk of punctures.
"So in the past, we think that the laser probably cooked blood and this seems to be really more water specific," Peden said. "So, because of that, it seems to go more directly to the vein wall and we think that's going to be better for patients as a result."
It's an outpatient procedure, light years away from the vein stripping of decades past.
"So there should be less pain and bruising, shorter recovery for people," Peden said.
Peden also said many insurance companies will cover the procedure because it's more than a cosmetic fix.
"For people that have abnormalities on their ultrasounds showing that they actually have valve problems and they have symptoms to go along with that, insurance by and large is very willing to pay for that," Peden said.
Dahms is just looking forward to being her usual carefree self again.
She said she hopes "that I'll be able to keep on keeping on. I'll be able to do more things without feeling tired or wearing dorky looking shoes. I have great expectations for it."
Varicose veins are mostly genetic, but Peden said you can improve vein health by staying active, watching your weight and wearing support stockings if you're on your feet a lot.
There are risks to this procedure such as blood clots, nerve damage and the veins returning.
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