What Are Noninvasive Treatments for Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are twisted, enlarged, and painful veins that fill
with blood. They usually develop in the legs and are raised above the surface
of the skin. They aren’t life-threatening but can cause discomfort.
Traditionally, a surgery known as “vein stripping” was performed
to remove varicose veins. This procedure involves making small incisions and
physically pulling the veins out of the body. However, more recent technologies
have been developed to remove varicose veins using minimal or noninvasive procedures.
A noninvasive procedure is
nonsurgical and doesn’t involve tools or equipment that cut the skin or
physically enter the body. Minimally invasive procedures are performed by
making tiny incisions in the skin.
What Are the Types of Noninvasive Treatments for Varicose Veins?
There are several different minimal or noninvasive procedures
available for treating varicose veins. These include:
The goal of sclerotherapy is to destroy varicose veins by
injecting them with a solution called a sclerosant. The sclerosant scars the
vein and causes it to collapse, forcing blood to reroute to healthier veins.
Your body eventually destroys the veins, and they disappear over time. The
sclerosant solution used is known as sodium tetradecyl sulfate. This type of
procedure is typically used to treat small varicose veins located close to the
surface of the skin called “spider
veins” and to improve the appearance of the leg.
A procedure called foam
sclerotherapy involves turning the sclerosant into a foam before
injecting it into the vein. This process is used for larger veins because foam
can cover a larger surface area than liquid.
In this procedure, radio waves, also called radiofrequency
energy, are transmitted through the vein wall. Your doctor will numb the vein, use
an ultrasound to see inside the leg, and then pass a wire catheter along the
vein to apply radiofrequency energy along its wall. Typically, this catheter
will run from the knee to the groin.
The vein wall will heat up, thicken, and contract, and eventually
be reabsorbed by the body and disappear. It may take a few weeks or months to
see the full results of this procedure.
Endovenous Laser Ablation
Laser ablation is similar to radiofrequency ablation, except it
uses laser energy rather than radiofrequency energy. Laser fiber is inserted
into the catheter, moved to the necessary location, and laser energy causes the
vessel to close by heat. The vein will eventually shrink and be reabsorbed by your
body over time. Radiofrequency and laser therapy are often used to treat the
deeper veins of the leg.
Who Should Receive Noninvasive Treatment for Varicose Veins?
Not all varicose veins require treatment from a doctor. On your own,
you may want to try these simple things to treat them:
- weight loss
- elevating your legs while sitting
- wearing compression stockings
Noninvasive treatment may be recommended by a doctor if:
- self-care treatment isn’t successful
- the appearance of your leg is causing you distress
- you experience any pain or cramping
- blood clots form frequently
- phlebitis occurs
- ulcers or sores form
- the fatty tissue under your skin hardens due to
blood pressure from the vein, which is called lipodermatosclerosis
What Can You Expect During a Noninvasive Treatment for Varicose Veins?
Noninvasive treatment for varicose veins is typically performed
in a doctor’s office using local anesthetic.
Before the Procedure
Be sure to tell your doctor if you’re pregnant, have any
allergies, or are taking any medications, including any herbal supplements. Your
doctor may ask you to stop taking aspirin, blood thinners, or any other
medications that make it hard for the blood to clot a few days before the
During the Procedure
You’ll be awake during the entire procedure. Your doctor will use
ultrasound to visualize the vein, and your leg will be cleaned and numbed with
a local anesthetic. You may feel slight pressure when the catheter is inserted
or minor stinging if a sclerosant solution is injected into the vein. If lasers
are used, you’ll be required to wear protective glasses during the procedure.
The closure of the vein, whether with radiofrequency or laser, shouldn’t be
After the Procedure
Your legs may be wrapped with bandages to control swelling and
bleeding. These bandages may need to be worn for several days. You should plan
on having a friend or relative drive you home after the procedure, and you may
be advised to avoid strenuous exercise for a week or two after. Acetaminophen,
such as Tylenol, may be recommended for any discomfort, but you should avoid
any pain relievers that may disrupt blood clotting, such as aspirin or
Additionally, your doctor may have you avoid hot baths or
whirlpools following the procedure. Cool showers or sponge baths with mild soap
and lukewarm water are recommended.
What Are the Risks of Noninvasive Treatments for Varicose Veins?
The noninvasive treatments are generally very safe, however as with
all medical procedures, there are some risks. All of the procedures carry a
- allergic reaction to the anesthesia
The risks of sclerotherapy may include:
- blood clots
- air bubbles
- small skin sores
- mild inflammation or swelling
- leaking of the solution into the surrounding
Radiofrequency and Laser Ablation
The risks of radiofrequency and laser ablation include:
- damage to the vessel
- blood clots
- hematoma, or a collection of blood outside the
- skin burns
- a sensation of tingling or prickling on the skin
- nerve injury
Outlook and Recovery Process
Typically, you can resume normal activities within a day or two
after receiving treatment. You’ll need to wear compression stockings during the
day for a week following treatment.
In general, noninvasive procedures are very successful and their
risk of complications is low. Typically, these procedures improve the
appearance of the skin on the legs or other areas. In most cases, there are no
signs of scarring or bruising, but there’s a small risk that the varicose veins
will return. Wearing compression stockings can reduce the risk of the varicose veins