Technique Simplifies Varicose Vein Surgery

June 26, 1998

A new surgical technique that removes varicose veins through "micro-incisions" has patients recovering faster and without the scarring associated with traditional leg vein surgery.

The technique has been introduced locally by vascular surgeon Cynthia Shortell, M.D. who together with her associates, is performing micro-incision surgery more than 8 times per week. "On the average, patients who undergo this procedure are able to resume normal activities about 50% earlier than those who are treated using traditional surgery," she said. Patients' individual recovery time varies according to the number of veins treated and the severity of their condition.

When performing the micro-incision technique, surgeons make a tiny puncture wound using a very fine knife. A device is then inserted to grasp the varicose vein and remove it through the puncture hole. Pressure is applied to the wound to stop the bleeding. Unlike traditional surgery done through an inch-and-a-half incision, micro-incisions require no staples or sutures to close the wound. The procedure takes less time in the operating room and patients recover quicker with only tiny scars.

Varicose veins are abnormally dilated superficial veins found in the legs. According to Shortell, the veins dilate and bulge because the wall of the vein lacks support. In most cases, tiny valves in the saphenous vein (the main blood supply to the legs) also fail to help blood flow back up the leg. As a result, pressure builds up in the side veins. "It's like a traffic jam on the highway," Shortell said. "The side roads begin to back up."

Pregnancy and excessive weight add to the problem by placing additional pressure on the blood trying to return to the heart. Varicose veins commonly run in families and are much more prevalent in women than in men. People who work on their feet are also more apt to develop the condition. The typical age of onset is from the teen years through the thirties.

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