ALBANY, Ga. -- During the last several decades, people have been using the method of vein stripping to deal with varicose veins.
Those days may soon be over.
Several doctors with Albany Surgical have been utilizing what some have called the "lunch break" surgery by using radiofrequency waves to resolve the condition by heating and sealing a vein via the ClosureFast procedure.
"It does a good job of closing veins," said Dr. Price Corr. "It heats it up (the vein) to a certain temperature and scars it down."
In all, the surgery takes about 10-15 minutes, hence its nickname. Local anesthesia is used on the area, and depending on the circumstances, the procedure may require several treatments going up to 120 degrees for some patients.
The doctors at Albany Surgical have been performing the procedure since 2004. It is usually covered by Medicare and health insurance. On average, about 30 such procedures are done in the office per month.
"We are moving the direction of doing more," Corr said.
Corr has actually had the procedure done on his right leg in Arizona by the doctor that trained him. "It's made my leg feel better," he said. "I've noticed a big difference."
Albany Surgical is among the first in the southeastern United States to invest in such technology, Corr said.
Veins take blood back to the heart. There are deep sets and surface sets of veins throughout the body to get the job done, but they can't do it alone.
"They don't have pumps except the muscles in the body," Corr explained. "The deep veins are inside the muscle and they have valves that are one-way. The surface system pumps blood into the deep system; the deep system is like an interstate."
There are also perforating veins that connect the deep and surface systems.
When a valve leaks, the blood pools, which in turn leads to color changes and ulcers. This is caused by venous insufficiency, which can be found on ultrasound exams.
Ultrasound technology just on its own has contributed a great deal to how vein problems are diagnosed and treated.
"With the evolution of high-definition ultrasound, we can see the valve and where the valve is leaking," Corr said.
The saphenous vein, a superficial vein in the leg, is where many people tend to have problems, Corr said.
Compression stockings are typically the first course of action Corr recommends for his patients. Vein strippings, or phlebectomies, are still performed, but not to the same degree they were before.
"We do vein strippings, but not long and deep," Corr said. "We used to do them blindly."
Severe varicose veins impact 25-30 million Americans with pain, swelling and disfigurement. The problem typically occurs during middle age, with most patients being women due to hormonal influences and pregnancy.
There are multiple impacts the "lunch break" surgery can have on a patient, the surgeon said.
"It has been said that this is not necessarily something that will make a difference in length of life, but it will help with the quality of life," Corr said. "That's not necessarily true. Bad valves in the heart put pressure on legs; (vein problems) can lead to heart disease."
Rita Adams can attest to the benefits of the procedure. Adams, who is
a nurse at Palmyra Medical Center, had leg pain she initially thought was being caused by a pre-existing condition.
It turns out she had a venous occlusion.
"I started noticing a pain in my legs," she recalled. "I was always taking ibuprofen, lifting my legs -- and nothing was helping.
"I could not stand in one place."
The problem was getting progressively worse, so she sought Corr's help. After the problem area was scanned, it turned out that Adams' issues were higher up on her leg than previously thought. She eventually qualified for the procedure.
As far as the surgery itself goes, Adams said there isn't that much to it.
"Going in for the procedure is simple," she recalled. "They numb you; you can watch and see what they are doing. You don't really feel anything."
"I just wanted to get relief. In all honesty, it's not bad at all."
The only negative aspect to the situation from Adam's experience was that her leg had to be bound for 48 hours in a bulky dressing, and in sport hose for a few days afterward.
"Sleeping in something that confining was horrible," she said.
She is not exactly a stranger to sport hose either. "I was wearing them at work in the beginning to get relief," Adams said.
She was able to go back to work within days, and is due to have the procedure done on her left leg within the next week.
"If I could encourage anyone to do it, I would," Adams said. "I hope the public will be willing to give it a go.
It's something she would recommend without reservation even as a health care professional. "As nurses, we don't pass it along unless we're sure," Adams said.
"I could have smacked myself for not doing it earlier."
The biggest benefit has been less fatigue and greater quality of life, the nurse said.
"I'm not always complaining about pain, and I can go to my yoga class," she said. "It gave me more energy and ability to function.
"On a scale of 0 to 10, my pain was at a 10. Now I don't have that."
While she does recommend the surgery, she would not advise a patient to do it solely for cosmetic purposes -- mainly because that impact might not be seen right away.
"It may happen over time, and it may vary from patient to patient," Adams said.