Goodbye lumpy legs: The laser operation that banishes varicose veins for good (and with no scars)

Matthew Barbour


21:00 GMT, 14 April 2012



21:01 GMT, 14 April 2012

As the summer approaches, the prospect of baring legs will strike fear into the hearts of a large group of women: those who have varicose veins.

The unsightly condition – caused by the failure of valves in the leg veins to open and close properly, leading to a build-up of pressure – may conjure up images of the elderly.

In fact, one in five of us will suffer, and the condition can strike even in adolescence.

Daring to bare: But Alice Garner, 23, hid her legs after varicose veins struck at 16. Last summer, she had EVLA treatment

Daring to bare: But Alice Garner, 23, hid her legs after varicose veins struck at 16. Last summer, she had Endovenous Laser Ablation Therapy (EVLA) treatment

Women are seven times more likely to suffer than men – and even celebrities are not exempt, with Britney Spears and Sex And The City’s Kristin Davis reported to have sought treatment.

‘Serious varicose veins can lead to varicose eczema, when the skin becomes flaky because of poor oxygen supply,’ says Constantinos Kyriakides, consultant vascular surgeon at The Private Clinic, and Barts and the London NHS Trust.

‘Varicose veins can bleed heavily if the leg is cut and sufferers can also develop venous ulcers or even deep-vein thrombosis.’

Traditional treatment involves cutting into the groin to find the top of the offending vein and tying it off, then passing a wire through from below the knee and pulling the vein downwards to strip it out.

This leaves the patient with two scars – a big one at the groin and another at the knee.

The stripping can result in bleeding, bruising, thrombosis and infection, often in the groin area.

It is usually a painful procedure that can require patients to take three weeks off work.

Twenty-three per cent of the veins grow back within a year and 82 per cent in five years.

EThe laser energy makes the walls of the vein collapse

The laser energy makes the walls of the vein collapse

Now a new treatment, Endovenous Laser Ablation Therapy (EVLA), can eradicate varicose veins for good in less than two hours.

One patient to benefit is 23-year-old Alice Garner, who suffered from varicose veins since the age of 16.

She says: ‘Initially they were just a few little bumps, but they rapidly became pronounced and knobbly.

'By the time I was 20, I refused to bare my legs in public. I avoided going swimming and would only ever wear long skirts.

'For a young woman this was really depressing.’

Last summer, Alice had EVLA treatment. The procedure uses a laser to target affected veins and is effective in more than 90 per cent of cases.

Under local anaesthetic, a catheter is put into the vein, near the knee or ankle.

Then a long sheath is sent through the vein. An ultrasound scanner is used to get the positioning exactly right.

'A laser fibre is passed inside the sheath until it comes out, and then switched on.

The laser energy makes the walls of the vein collapse. The sheath and laser are pulled back, destroying the vein as they go, without damaging the surrounding tissues.

Smaller varicose veins branching off the main vein are removed via microphlebectomy – where a small needle punctures the skin and a fine hook removes them.

The patient is able to walk out of the clinic the same day.

After her procedure, Alice’s legs were wrapped in surgical bandages to minimise bruising.

‘I was told to walk around to reduce the risk of blood clots,’ she says.

‘After the procedure, my legs ached for a couple of days, but were easily treated with painkillers.

'I only had to take two days off work and my varicose veins had completely gone.’

EVLA costs 2,150 for one leg and 3,650 for both.